Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for welldoing.org , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org.


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Transferentially yours – an email to my therapist, unsent

This may be the first weekend in – oh, a while – that I won’t have emailed you, and you won’t have replied. Am I depriving myself of contact, sabotaging myself, being childish, stubborn, cutting off my nose to spite my face? Maybe one, more, or all of the above.

Lately we’ve got into a debate about the reasons why I’m therapy, and whether or not I really want to change. And all because I wrote you an note, on an impulse, saying that I could change what I did or how I acted, but I didn’t see how I could ever change how I felt about myself. Okay, maybe not all because of that – there had been a fair amount of me finding myself in exactly the same situation I had found myself in many times before, apparently unable to see, accept and take in others’ concern and care, while at the same time believing only my own negative self-perceptions irrespective of any evidence to the contrary. But still, in a very specific way, our debate was the immediate result of my note, a note I wrote on impulse and when I was feeling despairing. So please, have a little faith. Though you wouldn’t be the first who didn’t, and who doesn’t. I know I like to think we share things – but I didn’t want this to be one of them.

I suppose I only have myself to blame for encouraging you to give me a kick up the backside, by telling you that I respond to challenge. But when you challenge me I want to feel secure in that challenge; and that means not just knowing that you are my anchor if I fall apart, but knowing that you feel secure in throwing out the challenge. That you have the confidence to challenge and to believe in me even when I don’t. That you know the answer to the question you are asking, but are trying to get me to see it. I want to feel that your commitment to me is stronger than your challenge – even if I fail it. Because I can try again, and you can help me.

This time, the challenge felt a little like a threat. I responded, as I always do, to that motivational kick, but how much was due to fear? And at what price? Doubt, an undermining of my feeling of security and safety, and of my belief in your commitment, even though you insist your commitment is there, and that what you are asking for is my own.

It feels as though all of this has come about because we have spent so long talking about my marriage recently – which is very helpful, and incredibly important – but we still haven’t talked about my feelings and actions over the Christmas break, and our own relationship hasn’t had much of a look-in. I agree with you that we needed to stay with the subject of my marriage – that the fact I wanted to put that to one side and focus on us was in itself a very important issue to address. Why did I keep running away from the conversation? Why did it always feel like an imposition on therapy time to talk about the key present relationship in my life? Of course we needed to talk about my marriage. But the longer we have focused on it, the less connected to you I feel, and the less I am able to maintain a sense of your benevolence.

You keep saying that working with resistance is a very important part of therapy. That it can be very uncomfortable, both for client and for therapist. I have seen lots of different emotions pass across your features over the last couple of weeks, even though I can’t identify what they are, and that disturbs me. I’m sure I have annoyed you, perhaps even angered you. Disappointed you maybe? Who knows. In our last session when we were talking about my husband, it felt very much as though you were on ‘his side’, rather than mine – though I know there are no ‘sides’. You said you thought my husband was doing his best and wasn’t sure what else to do, and it seems to me that perhaps you were talking just as much about yourself, as about him. You want me to give him a break, to stop identifying him with ‘mother’ – is that getting to you too?

I know that I will come back to session next week, still wanting to work through all this. I know it is important, and I hope that I can make some progress. I want to work at this – however disconnected I feel. However insecure I feel, and even if you don’t have the faith that I want you to have. I will do the work because I respond to challenge and because, whether I feel I’m doing this on my own or with you, I want to do it for you. Yes, I want to do it for me as well – but what strikes me really powerfully is the sense that even if I have to do this feeling entirely alone and disconnected, I will do it for you. I have to – you are everything.

Perhaps the upside of taking the focus off our own relationship, and of not seeking to immediately repair the rupture and ‘restore things to rights’, is that it allows the transference to persist for longer, and more powerfully. Which I guess is really the point, and the only way through. But in that case, please remember that my lack of faith may not really be in you. And if this situation is all transferential, then the really heart-breaking thing is – how many of the things I thought I had done for myself, while feeling disconnected and alone, were actually done for someone else?

Other than through my feelings towards you, I have lost all access to my original responses to many of my parents’ behaviours towards me. These days they elicit simply anger and resentment on my part, and I have cut myself off so completely, emotionally, that I find it hard to imagine that my inner being ever wanted to respond in a way that pleased them or had the urge to do what they wanted, particularly when feeling criticised or unaccepted by them. It’s very hard to imagine that that situation would ever lead me to cling on, rather than push away. Part of me does want to push you away – it’s the more recent and more enduring response – and maybe I am doing that emotionally, to a degree. But it feels as though we are bound up together, regardless, and I will do this work to show you that there is a basis for the faith that I want you to have.

Somehow, I feel I have to work for your faith. My works, your faith; a theologically mixed and dubious sort of salvation, but there it is. The key thing is to know where we’re headed, even if right now it all feels like a somewhat purgatorial existence. I miss you – and who knows how next week will unfold…..

 


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An open letter to my therapist

It’s been a long time since you’ve felt so much like the enemy. Since I’ve wanted to keep you at arms’ length and push you away. When I asked you a question at the start of our last session and felt brushed off by your reply, I was surprised at how much it hurt. Surprised because I’d been feeling so cut-off I wasn’t sure if you still had the power to wound me like that.  Before the Christmas break I would have just let go and cried, but instead I tried to contain it and keep it inside. I was guarded and I was holding back.

I’ve been turning away from you in session, I know I have, but I don’t know if you’ve noticed. It’s very subtle – just shifting in my chair so that I can turn a little to the side. It’s not deliberate, but I’m aware of it happening. Before the Christmas break I was pulling my chair closer because it felt as though the distance between us was too great; but recently I’ve been pushing myself back into my chair in an attempt to get further away. Sometimes I want to leave mid-session – it feels pointless to keep talking when I’m not connecting emotionally with anything I’m saying. It feels too difficult to carry on when you feel like an outsider and I feel so alone.

I feel disconnected – from you, and from my own feelings about you. I can’t reach you – you feel completely inaccessible. I feel as though I’m relating to you from behind a glass wall and I have no idea how to break through. What are you thinking and feeling? Are you feeling anything at all? Does anything I say have an emotional impact on you? And what do I have to do to get some sort of reaction from you that makes you seem real, human and invested in me, and not just like a well-meaning bystander?

When there’s a chink in the armour of my disconnection, I bounce between longing –  and anger and resentment. When I opened up to you about the more troubling aspects of my feelings for you, on some level I felt as though I was trying to forge a connection by bringing something to the table that you would find psychotherapeutically interesting – something to analyse and theorise over. It was almost as if I was giving you a special gift, not just of my trust, but one that represented professional excitement for you, and emotional intensity for me. But the reality was very different – it seemed to be just an ‘ordinary’ gift to you, and I felt little apart from confusion. As for you – I had no idea how you felt.

It was afterwards that the anger and resentment kicked in. You’re so keen to try and show me other viewpoints, other ways of seeing things. So keen to open me up to the possibility that there are explanations for things that don’t involve me blaming myself all the time. So maybe it’s you who cannot reach me; you who’s not trying hard enough and who’s failing to tune into me, and not the other way around. Do I really believe that? I don’t know. I want to hurt you and to protect you from hurt, all at the same time.

I feel so terribly unfair. You don’t deserve these words and on some level I know that they’re not true. But I’m so desperate and frustrated. Where is the person that I love? Where is that love, and why can’t I feel it as immediately as I did? Why do I hesitate to trust you?

I spend so much time not looking at you in session. And when I do look, I try and remind myself that what I’m seeing is thoughtfulness, rather than judgement; seriousness rather than dislike; amusement rather than dismissiveness. Sometimes I’m too afraid to look, in case it hurts. But sometimes I want to look and look at your face just to try and find something that I recognize. Maybe I want to see the smile that I love, and feel that it’s for me. Maybe I want to see empathy, understanding, or compassion. Maybe I want to see something of what I’m feeling, mirrored in you. Or maybe I just think that looking hard enough will be sufficient to build a connection again. But I could never keep your gaze for very long; and in any case I’m too worried that I could never keep your attention.

Therapy has such a limited repertoire of senses – and when I cannot look at you in session, the only thing that I have left is sound. Sometimes your voice changes – it’s one of the reasons that I’m here. I don’t know why, or what it means, but it’s beautiful and it makes me feel held and cared for. You used that voice in our very first session when I was drowning and in floods of tears, grieving over the imminent loss of Jane. You used it a few months ago when I was distraught because I thought that I was a ‘bad patient’ and was ‘failing at therapy’. It’s a warmer, softer, gentler voice, and I wish that I could remember it clearly, or bottle it and let it out when I need it most.

I so wanted some of that gentleness when we were talking about how overwhelmed I was feeling at work. I knew I couldn’t be physically held, but I wanted to be held by that voice. I wanted to feel it wash over me; for it to be my comfort. I needed you to reach me with that gentleness and to connect us with that warmth. But we don’t feel bound together anymore. There is no ‘we’. There is me trying to steer a course in a stormy sea, and there’s you trying to give directions from the shore. But all I wanted was for you to speak the voice that stills the storm.

I want to fix this. I want to fix us, but I don’t know how. You said I was resourceful – because I had tried to connect us by talking about things that I thought you would find interesting; by asking you questions to try and find areas of similarity between us and to draw us closer together. But this is my last resource; I don’t know what else to do. I wrote a letter to Jane once, about half-way through our sessions together, and it was the key that unlocked the most intense aspects of my feelings for her. Perhaps I’m hoping that it will do the same for us; or at least, that it will break down the defences that I feel I have been putting up so that I can release what I’m thinking and feeling to you, instead of holding it back. But I’m not sure that my last resource will work. Words are powerful, but on this occasion it feels as though they are failing me. They haven’t unravelled the knots that are keeping me trapped within myself. I’m throwing them out as a lifeline, but they’re falling short. They haven’t anchored me to you – like my spoken words, they still leave me feeling floating and alone.

It’s been a long time since you’ve felt so much like the enemy, but maybe I just have to trust that that will change. Unless we sit in silence when we meet, I have no choice but to keep on talking. I can keep on focusing on the ‘less difficult’ areas; I can keep trying to talk about you, and not me. But eventually I’m going to have to take a risk and talk about something harder, even if it feels like nothing. Eventually, I hope the nothing will start to feel like something and you won’t feel so distant anymore. In the meantime, please don’t get frustrated with me, and please don’t close yourself off. I’m trying to feel comfortable enough to feel – but I need to see you being you, to sense you’re really here. To quote a favourite TV episode of mine: “People who are broken don’t want you to be professional, they want you to be real”….

 

 [* quote is from the last episode of Season 2 of ‘My Mad Fat Diary’]