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.


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I admit it – I need a rainbow butterfly unicorn kitten too

cat unicorn

Once again I appear to be behind the times – this picture has been spreading across the internet like wildfire for quite some time, but I only came across it recently. Apologies to whoever is responsible for the image, for the lack of attribution – I can’t find one anywhere!

The picture made me smile as soon as I saw it – and then I felt silly for smiling, as part of me thought it was quite plainly one of the most ridiculous pictures I had ever seen. And I had never quite understood what appeared to be the mental health world’s fascination with unicorns. (I make this gross generalization based on the fact that when I first started reading mental health blogs, I came across captioned images of unicorns on a very regular basis).

But the fact remains – I still smile every time I see this picture. It actually makes me happy to look at it. Maybe it’s just that I love kittens. To the extent that I can almost ignore the fact that this kitten has an odd sort of protrusion on its forehead. But in this context, even that seems apt and appears to have a place – if anything can be said to ‘have a place’ in this bizarre creation of ridiculous (some might take that literally) cuteness.

To be serious for a moment – if that is possible under the circumstances; this one picture brings together some powerful symbolism, and that, undoubtedly, is part of its appeal, particularly in relation to mental health. Depending on the context, rainbows symbolize hope and/or freedom; unicorns remind us of gentleness, innocence, mystery, beauty – or, indeed, of almost any positive virtue. They are a symbol of ‘the good’ – and at the same time their mythical and mystical nature is a representation of our longing for something perfect and unattainable. As for the butterfly – it is a powerful symbol of transformation, and in the mental health world it is also associated with recovery and self-care; the ‘butterfly project’, for example, aims to support and motivate individuals who wish to stop self-harming. As for the kitten – well, a kitten is a kitten. It’s adorable – who could resist? (I’m going to ignore the dream interpretation website I saw, that claimed that kittens are a symbol of sexual fantasies and irrational beliefs. If you start believing that the rainbow butterfly unicorn kitten is real, I will direct you to that website).

So, sometimes, it seems you really do need a rainbow butterfly unicorn kitten. Or, at least, I do. How did I never realize this before?!

 


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‘Hope’ – Mind creative writing competition

[A couple of weeks ago I was honoured and excited to find out that I had won a highly commended runners’ up place in the 2015 Mind Creative Writing Competition, in partnership with Penguin Random House UK. The theme for the competition was ‘Hope’, and an extract from an interview with the competition’s winner, Louise, was recently published on the Mind website. The full interview and her entry (on the subject of finding hope in the aftermath of her brother’s suicide), will be published in the January edition of Mind News.

My own entry follows below – those who have been reading my blog for a little while may recognise it as a re-worked version of an early blog post! Very many thanks to Mind and Penguin Random House UK for their kind and valuable feedback on this piece, and for the much appreciated prize  – a box of goodies which turned out to be amazingly serendipitous!]

The rainbow of therapy

What is a rainbow? “Hope, shining upon the tears of grief” Robert Ingersoll

When we struggle with our mental health, hope can feel like such a precarious state. Any hint of it feels more like ‘hoping against hope’: hoping in the face of hopelessness; hoping even when one is abandoned by hope. We may be so aware of the shifting nature of our sense of self and the volatility of our emotions, that we cannot believe that hope will last. We may be so used to every positive situation being tinged with something dark, that sometimes hopefulness simply feels like misery in disguise.

I remember being asked by a therapist a couple of years ago, what I would want if she could just wave a magic wand and make anything at all happen. I sat there with tears rolling down my face, completely unable to think of anything to say. It wasn’t a case of not being able to decide, or not knowing what I wanted. It was the fact that the very concept of a future – any future, let alone one that was ‘better’ than the present – was completely unthinkable. I simply could not see beyond the present pain, and hadn’t been able to, for quite some time. The ‘future’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.

A few months later, a different therapist referred to the progress I had been making in one particular area, as ‘a success’. My resulting tears seemed to baffle her, but somehow I found it difficult and distressing to think of anything I had been doing, as ‘a success’. Success had always been so important to me – but having a reached a state in which I felt little control over my life, and had little self-esteem, the concept of succeeding at anything, was also unthinkable. It was too painful to be praised. ‘Success’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.

They say that hope sustains life – but it seems to me that love sustains life long enough to give birth to hope that that sustenance will continue. If I felt abandoned by hope, it was because I felt abandoned by love. Abandoned in the present, and in a way that I’m still trying to properly understand, abandoned in the past. I remember very clearly the strong desire, when growing up, to be loved unconditionally by someone who did not have the biological imperative to do so. I can see now that my thinking was rather confused: I thought that parents were programmed to love their offspring unconditionally, but this is a contradiction in terms. Love is not about programming but about acceptance – and while thinking that my parents loved me unconditionally, I was also very aware of the areas in which I ‘fell short’, did not meet expectations, or was something other than what I was desired to be. Hence the need to be loved by somebody who chose to love me – choice implied acceptance, something I did not feel I had.

I have been in therapy for a little while – long enough to see that it is making a difference, even when it feels as though it is two steps forward and a giant leap back. Long enough for that difference to lead to glimmers of hope. Not hope in the face of hopelessness, but hope in the face of possibility – the possibility of recovery, and the possibility of change. Sometimes I come away from therapy sessions hurting immensely. Incapable of asking for reassurance directly, I allow fears over lack of acceptance to spiral out of control, such that everything my therapist says (or doesn’t say) contributes to the excruciating sense that I am unwanted, disliked and uncared for. Sometimes I can barely speak, paralysed by fear of further hurt and an overwhelming desire to just shut down. I drift in and out of being emotionally present, but she reaches out to me, and gradually, we work through how I am feeling, and why.

Ultimately, it is this ‘working through’ that has given me a glimpse, more than anything, of the transformative power of the therapeutic relationship, and that glimpse has given me hope. I have realised that although it is easy for me to feel hurt, it is also easy for me to feel loved. My therapist’s words and actions show me that. That feeling is very hard to hold onto, and so I often bring those words, those actions, and that caring to mind, not just because they are the foundations of the trust that we have built, but also because they help to keep the whole edifice from crumbling when it is the subject of internal attack.

I have also realised, with amazement, that my therapist responds to my needs and has made a commitment to continue to do so. It’s hard to explain how deeply it touches me to know that someone is trying to meet me ‘where I am at’. To know that I have been heard and my viewpoint accepted; to know that I haven’t had to justify how I feel or to be ashamed of it; to know that it is possible for me to voice my feelings and my needs, and for something to change as a result. I find it hard to get my head around, and it feels truly humbling.

Finally, this ‘working through’ has also brought a revelation. Though on one level it seems so obvious, when the ‘lightbulb moment’ came, it seemed a beautifully simple and surprising idea. It was an emotional revelation, if not an intellectual one – I knew it because I felt it, and because I felt it, it gave me hope. Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. So often over the last few years, I have tried to derive comfort from things which were self-destructive; things which gave me the illusion of an all-enveloping hug, but which in reality were only hurting me further. It scares me to say it, but the comfort of this revelation felt better.

Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. It sends a shiver down my spine. I dare not hope.

But hope I do.

 


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Memory Monday – “Hope”

As I think about resuming therapy tomorrow after a two and a half week break, I am thinking back over what has been one of the hardest but also one of the most encouraging therapy breaks I have had. My sessions over the period January to March were difficult and mixed – starting off with a great sense of disconnection, then a ‘repair’ and reconnection in the therapeutic relationship, only to find myself in the same disconnected state a few sessions later. At one point I felt as though I had taken ten steps back and no steps forward; and that I was back in my pre-September state whereby my view of therapy and my therapist was changing and alternating from one extreme to the other, on a session by session basis. Then, a few weeks before the Easter break, as happened before Christmas, a seemingly small or chance occurrence took place that uncovered a wealth of intense and valuable therapeutic material that transformed the course of sessions for a while.

Over those three months, my experiences often felt disjointed. We ranged over many topics, some feeling still incomplete even though the conversation came to a natural end and we moved onto other things. But taken as a whole, it was an immensely important period for my therapy, and each and every part of those three months contributed in its own way to the work that we did and the realisations that I came to. As my therapist noted, my posts on ‘BPD and testing those we love‘ and ‘Progress can be painful‘ showed how far I have come since she and I first started working together, and although the work has been ongoing for eighteen months, I think much of it has only started to come together since January.

As I think back over the last three months I am reminded of my post ‘Hope’, from July of last year:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/07/06/hope/

I remember a friend telling me she had done a ‘happy dance’ when she read it – it was the first time I had really expressed hope and a sense of feeling cared for, within my current therapy. I had struggled greatly with not feeling cared for or understood by my therapist, as described in ‘Waiting‘, and so ‘Hope‘ marked a significant turning point for me. It was a turning point, not a destination – and so I continued to struggle with this issue for some time, and sometimes, to a (much) lesser extent, still do. But it was a vital milestone nonetheless, just as the experiences of the last few months (and particularly the last few weeks) have been vital for me as well.

This break has been difficult because with a greater investment and attachment to my therapy and therapist, and a greater immersion in our twice-weekly sessions, comes more pain and greater feelings of loss, upon separation. But this break has also been encouraging because despite the gap, I still feel connected to her, and that in itself feels like a huge achievement. I don’t think that sense of connection and of her ongoing caring is something I have sustained in any other previous break. I think it’s partly a function of changes within me, and partly a function of trying to receive what she gives me – in terms of a limited degree of email contact between sessions, for example – and using it to remind myself that despite not being physically present, she is still real, and she hasn’t changed.

I have no idea what the next few months of therapy will bring. Thinking about tomorrow, I am at a loss to know where to even begin, given the vast number of things I would like to talk about, including not just what happened over the break, but topics that came up in the few sessions before the break that were not fully explored. But given my recent experiences, I am no longer as nervous about the possibility of skipping between issues and then coming back to them; or of the pace and intensity of sessions changing at different times; or of sometimes not having a plan of what to talk about and at other times having a long list and covering only a fraction. Given my recent experiences, I dare to hope that my next few months of therapy will be as productive as the last. I dare not hope, yet, that my next therapy break will be any easier, or will be just as encouraging.

But hope I do.