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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Intensity

I feel as though I must have been living under a rock not to have come across this song until now – which was released in the UK in June 2014 and is still in the UK Official Singles chart. What I find just as unbelievable is that I had also, therefore, never come across the official video for the song – which has been viewed more than half a BILLION times on Youtube.

I watched the video for Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ for the first time a few days ago, and I was bowled over. It completely blew my mind. It felt haunting, disturbing, desperately sad. The words, the music and the dance came together to create a powerfully moving experience. But it wasn’t just an experience about a girl in a song, or a girl on a screen. How can you explain it when you know that what you’re feeling is profound and significant but you don’t understand how? That the song may not be directly about you, but your experience of it and response to it could reveal so much?

I watched it again and again and again, absolutely hooked, feeling completely taken over by the experience. My emotions were building, and pushing against my chest wall to get out. But it wasn’t until I read a beautiful and revealing blog post on the subject of trust, that all of a sudden a switch was flipped, and a torrent of emotions started to swirl around and flow out. The song and the visuals had tapped into something – but the written words connected to it, magnified it, and set it free.

Looking back, it all feels somewhat unreal, and I’m still unsure of its meaning. All I know is that as I sat there with tears pouring down my face, in the middle of an emotional storm, confused about what my emotions were – I also felt grateful for the intensity. Grateful that I felt as though I could hardly contain the waterfall of emotion that wanted to pour out. Grateful that I felt full – however much fullness felt like hurting and despair.

At times like those, I wish that I could instantly transport myself to therapy, where it would be safe to fully experience those emotions, and to explore their meaning. I can’t help feeling that had I been able to do so, something significant, something ultimately healing, might have taken place. Instead, I tried to contain the tears as best I could, conscious that my husband was in the other room and could come in at any moment. And now, I don’t feel I have easy access to that place again. I can think about my response; I can try to understand it. But the emotion is no longer accessible to me.

When I write about songs that have had an impact on me, I sometimes quote lines from those songs. In this case, I want to quote quite substantially, because for me, so much of the power of the dance is in the way that is combines not just with the music, but with the words. It sounds obvious – but I often find myself listening to music without really hearing the words, and in this case, the words are vital. How many of us can relate to trying to numb the pain, to pushing it down? To that desperate sense of holding on for dear life? And how many of us feel so very young when we experience those things? As young as the twelve-year old child in this dance?

With apologies to Sia for a slight re-ordering of verses….

“Party girls don’t get hurt
Can’t feel anything, when will I learn
I push it down, push it down

I’m the one “for a good time call”
Phone’s blowin’ up, they’re ringin’ my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love

Sun is up, I’m a mess
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink

Throw ’em back, till I lose count

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist
I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

But I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight
Help me, I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight
On for tonight….”

[Sia, ‘Chandelier’]

 


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What’s in a name?

*TRIGGER WARNING – SELF-HARM*

I am in the grip of something that I don’t understand. It’s happened before, and it’s always disquieting, as unlike many of the symptoms or feelings I experience, this is one for which I don’t have a name. For a while I wondered whether it was a type of dissociation, but I thought dissociation was meant to protect you from painful emotions, and this is one of the worst feelings that I know.

There is something within me to which I don’t have access, and the frustration that this inaccessibility engenders, builds and puts increasing pressure on my insides. Sometimes the frustration builds and builds until the force of it is so strong I feel as though I need to explode outwards but I can’t. Sometimes I am dimly aware of it  – it builds for a day or two and then dies down, without any explanation, either for its arrival, or its departure. There is the feeling and the meta-feeling- the ‘inaccessible’ emotion, and the unbearable frustration.

My school friend who also has BPD was telling me that she feels bereft because she is struggling so much and yet is completely unable to put her feelings into words. I feel very grateful that for me, writing is not daunting, but a delight, and that it is one of the very few ways in which I am able to communicate emotion. But although I had to admit that I could not directly empathise with her ‘writers’ block, I do know how it feels to be ‘emotionally blocked’.

She struggles to capture feelings in words and to make them known to others; ‘inaccessibility’, for me, means struggling to capture emotions in feelings, and to make them felt to myself. And because I know that that sounds all but incomprehensible, I will try and explain it a little bit more.

This is what I wrote to my friend, when she told me about feeling bereft:

“I think I can understand the utter frustration of not being able to express something, though I don’t necessarily experience it in relation to words. Not being able to express something leaves you feeling deprived, because you can’t let ‘it’ out; and neither can you let someone else in to see ‘it’, because you cannot paint a picture for them. ‘It’ is inexpressible and incommunicable and that leaves you utterly isolated, with no bridge to another mind.”

That sense of being ‘cut off’, bereft, not being able to paint a picture of what is wrong, or to transfer the information to someone else where it can be understood and felt  – that is how I experience ‘inaccessibility’, but in relation to myself. That is how I experience ‘inaccessibility’ in relation to an emotion that I can sense but cannot feel; a disquiet that I can intuit, but that does not reveal itself to me.

‘Inaccessibility’ is always connected, for me, with a strong desire to self-harm. It is part of what grips me and intrudes upon my thoughts. It may be intended as an ‘antidote’ but it’s also part of the poison, as it feeds the meta-feeling with its own brand of frustration. My cutting has almost always been restricted to a small and easily concealed area of my body, in order to be able to keep it absolutely hidden. The need to be restrictive has always been frustrating, and occasionally that frustration spills over into minor cuts on more visible parts of my body.

In these times, the need within me is to start cutting and not to stop. The desire to be able to keep going, to fill up all of me with pain, and to blood-let out of every pore, is intense. The fact that I cannot do so  – that my life, as it is now, depends on not doing so – just adds fuel to the fire, and deepens the compulsion. In these times, the self-harming serves a double purpose. It tries to block and distract from the frustration by creating pain that is louder, more immediate. At the same time, it tries to make the ‘inaccessible’ present by removing the vacuum and giving me something concrete to feel.

I never know when the disquiet is going to arrive – and I never know how much it will build, or how long it is going to stay. I felt it when I visited that same school friend two years ago, and we spent an intense weekend closeted in her flat, sharing our experiences and talking about our relationship. By the end of the weekend, my internal state reflected the pressure-cooker environment we had immersed ourselves in, but I had no release valve and I felt as though I was bursting at the seams with anguish.

I felt it grow for about ten days last year, when I was having counselling sessions with my ex-therapist, Jane. It started off as pain that I could sense was there but could not feel or express, and it grew into something so unbearable that every day, I wanted to die. Our session over-ran a little one day, as I desperately clutched my arms around my body, folded over double in my chair, needing frantically to feel and cry but not being able to give birth to a single tear.

This time, my mind keeps coming back to a recent therapy session where I was describing thoughts and dreams I’d had, related to what it would have been like to be my therapist’s daughter. I can’t really describe why it felt like such a ‘special’ session. Particularly because other than ‘special’, I’m not sure it felt like anything much at all. I’ve been feeling ‘high’ following on from my recent Escape into suicidal ideation, but this seems to go hand in hand with a sense of not connecting with my emotions, and of being detached from them. But I keep wanting to come back to that ‘special’ session – to dwell in it. I want to talk about it all again, even though I’ve got nothing to new to say. Something powerful is drawing me, but it wants to stay unnamed and unfelt. And this ‘inaccessible’ something has flicked a switch inside my mind that keeps the same sentence playing on repeat: ‘I need to cut; I need to cut’.

I can’t pretend to understand it, though I do want to ‘name it’. I want to be able to look it up, to read about it, to have someone say ‘This, this, is what you are experiencing, and this is why it happens’. I want to know whether it is a fundamental part of my diagnosis, or something unrelated. I want to know whether others experience it too.

But would I really feel more in control of it, be better able to deal with it, if I knew what this ‘inaccessibility’, this ‘disconnect’ was called? Knowledge is power – I believe that. But at the same time, ‘a rose by any other name….’ – or perhaps by no name – would still be the same bloody set of thorns.