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.


8 Comments

How things have changed

I turned on my laptop this evening to write a post*. I recently upgraded to Windows 10 and so now instead of taking me straight to the log-on screen, it displays a picture (is it a random one, or always the same? I have no idea) with the date and time in big letters.

Saturday, 6 August 2016.

All of a sudden I realised that it was the first time since 2013 that the day had come and (almost) gone, without me really noticing that it was the 6th of August. My therapist has often said that you know when you’re ready to leave therapy, when you no longer notice the holidays. Is it the case that you know when grief is truly done when you no longer notice the anniversaries?

The date is significant to me because it marks the day on which I had my last session with my ex-therapist, Jane. There is a section of this blog dedicated to her ; the first few months of my current therapy and also the first few months of my blogging, were taken up with grieving that ending, which was an enforced one due to the short-term nature of the support service through which I saw her.

I know that this is a relatively ‘minor’ anniversary and a different sort of grief, from losing a close family member, for example. I can fully imagine that those related anniversaries (birthdays, weddings, deaths) are never forgotten; that their character may change over time, but the dates are not just memories, but part of the fabric of life, of growing up maybe. Body memories as much as mind memories. But it was the first grief I had ever allowed myself to feel, and perhaps its intensity and its duration were reflective of it being a mixture of that present pain, and also past losses, not yet grieved.

I dreaded the first anniversary of losing Jane – and though I tried to exercise self-care, I ended up in self-sabotage and with feelings of great sadness and regret, which I was only able to write about some time later. The sadness was also mixed up with feelings of abandonment in relation to my current therapist – it was our first long summer break, and as was often the case in those days, I had expectations of how I wanted her to behave or what I wanted her to say, and when those things did not happen, I felt let down. The sadness of the anniversary was complicated by a resentment that that sadness had not been anticipated, remembered or acknowledged by my therapist (or so it seemed to me at the time).

Last year, on the second anniversary of losing Jane, I wrote about how much better I felt than I had expected. Although I had thought of Jane, my main thoughts were of my therapist, and how much I missed her. It was good to know that things had changed, and that my connection to my therapist was so much stronger. But it was also frightening, because it made me even more conscious of the fact that one day I would be grieving that relationship too, and I could not even begin (or bear) to imagine what that would be like.

This year, the anniversary feels different yet again. For one thing, as I started by saying, I hadn’t even realised it was an anniversary today, though I did think about it and wonder how I would feel, earlier in the week. I’m not sure how I feel about today’s ‘forgetting’ – guilty, I think, and worried. I can’t imagine ever forgetting to mark in some way, the date on which I eventually have my last session with my current therapist.  Though I didn’t notice until now what the date was today, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about Jane – she still comes up in conversation with my therapist, and I do still wonder sometimes whether I might see her around town. On the very rare occasions I find myself near her house, I drive past just to see if the same car is parked there. And the topic of Jane’s notes of our therapy sessions together formed a very significant part of my therapy just before Easter. She will always be important to me, for all the reasons I have previously described – and she gave me the name of my current therapist, for I which I will always be extremely thankful and grateful.

Last year I talked about missing my current therapist – and that is no less true now. Last year I talked about how recollecting my therapist’s words when I was on the phone to a friend, was comforting and helped me to feel that she was ‘real’. This year, it’s not only a case of recollecting her words – memories and thoughts of her are with me all the time, and almost everything reminds me of her in one way or another. The music that I play in the car is music that I’ve shared with her; when I have good times with my children I remember her telling me how important that is for all of us. When I shout at them instead, I remember how she says that it is always possible to mend. When I have distressing arguments with my husband I try and think of what she would suggest I do and say, and try and remember her telling me that not feeling loved is not the same as not being loveable. When I’m around flowers I think of her gardening metaphors and wish that she were around to tell me about them, and identify them for me.

This year I’m managing to hold her much more in mind – where ‘her’ is ‘new mother’, rather than whatever variant of her the different parts of chose to construct at different points in time: uncaring mother, disappointed mother, unthinking mother. Whenever I have felt disconnected and separated from my therapist during previous therapy breaks, it is because who she is became clouded by my past experiences and I no longer saw her clearly. I assumed that she would fit the pattern of my previous experience, rather than fully understanding that she was different, and was trying to offer me a new experience.

Whilst holding her much more in mind, I’m also managing to believe that she is holding me in mind too. I’m pretty confident that my ‘holding in mind’ has a different quality (and frequency!)  to hers; but the security and trust I feel means that I’m not dwelling on that, even though the feelings of ‘exclusion’ and ‘inequality’ still visit sometimes, which I think is usual during a break.  I know that she will think of me, and wonder how I’m doing. And she most certainly thought of me, and how the break would feel, before we parted company for six weeks; and she did as much as she could both to give me more time and sessions leading up to the break, and to give me things to hold onto and suggestions for how to stay connected, during the break. I go to sleep every night holding onto a stone that she lent me (one of a collection of mementos in her therapy room). I know where it came from and what she sees in the patterns on its surface. It connects me to her – and it is also an outward visible sign of that ‘new mother ‘relationship that I’m now trusting in.

It feels right that this anniversary should be marked by the sort of change that Jane would have been glad to see in me. I was never in any doubt that though the circumstances of our ending were difficult, she wanted only the best for me. And she gave it to me – in the form of introducing me to my therapist.

 

[* The post that I was going to try and write was ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’. I don’t like taking long gaps between posts that are meant to link together and be part of a whole, and it’s a post I still very much want to write. It’s close to my heart, and important, and I want to share what I’ve felt, thought and learned about this subject. But I have had great difficulties with exhaustion over the last few weeks, and this has made it difficult to write in the evenings, and to keep to my usual ‘posting schedule’! So Part 3 will come……eventually. As for tonight, I knew as soon as I saw the date, what I had to write about….]


3 Comments

The importance of saying goodbye

When I saw this clip, it immediately reminded me of the first person that I lost to death. I was a child and they were a close family member who went through a fairly brief battle with cancer. I wasn’t there at the end and I can’t remember whether it was days or weeks between the last time I saw them, and their death; and yet this was someone who until their hospitalisation, I saw several times a week. There was no goodbye and I was not allowed to go to the funeral. There was also no grieving on my part; the unconscious decision not to, had already been made, and the adults around me were far too preoccupied with their own grief and with seeking reassurance from me, to notice. Though I have no memory of most of my feelings at that time, the way I responded to this clip made me wonder whether deep inside I had wanted a ‘good ending’ and a chance to say goodbye.

By the time the scenario was repeated with a second close family member, my emotional defenses were already in place to absolutely guarantee that the pain would be minimal. I didn’t want to say goodbye or go to the funeral, even though this time I had to. People commented on the fact that I didn’t cry; but at least they weren’t asking me to try and negate their long-held atheism with reassurances of the existence of an after-life. All that I knew was that life after a death was a place of blackness, crying, desolation and lack of joy. There was no celebration of either of those lives, and that made the endings – unresolved as they were – so much worse.

A couple of years ago I read ‘Family’ by Susan Hill. It is a moving account of the author’s struggles to complete her family, following the birth of her first daughter, Jessica, in 1977. A few years later Susan Hill gave birth to a little girl prematurely, and she survived for only five weeks. The account of her brief life, and her death, is heart-breaking; but what struck me most of all was the way in which Jessica was fully involved and had the chance to say a proper goodbye to her sister. Just like her parents did, she held the little girl’s lifeless body in her arms, and gave her a last cuddle.

I know many people might disagree with Susan Hill’s decision, thinking that it would have been too distressing for a young child – my parents certainly would have thought so. When I first read about it I was shocked and surprised – but now I hope I would have had the courage and conviction to do the same, in that situation. Though not yet in double figures in age, Jessica encountered death face to face – and I like to think that she may have grown up into a woman who is less afraid of it as a consequence. A woman with loving memories of someone that she lost, that may bring pain, but also joy at what was gained before it was lost. Of course that’s all speculation; but if it’s true, I also like to think that what made it possible, was the fact that she had a chance to properly say goodbye.

***

Stepping back, after two years, into the counselling service where I used to see Jane (my ex-therapist), felt strange. For the first few months after our therapy ended, even driving past the building was painful. The prospect of entering it again had filled me with apprehension; and before I could do it I had to check with the service manager that Jane had indeed retired, as she had planned, and that the room I would be attending a meeting in was not the one in which I had had sessions. I was afraid of how I might feel if I were to bump into her again; and of what it would be like to sit in that room. If there were a choice of chairs, which would I choose? I couldn’t risk sitting in the ‘patient’s’ position in case it was too triggering; I couldn’t sit in the therapist’s chair as that had been her space. It would have to be another seat – but there was still the worry that even being in the room would be too difficult and too distressing.

Though I felt unsettled, I managed to concentrate during my meeting and the next time I went back it was a little easier. During my most recent visit, I got up the courage to ask the service manager if I could go into ‘Jane’s’ room and take some photographs. For a while I had had a nagging desire to take a picture of the view out of Jane’s window – the view I spent so much time looking at because I found it so difficult to maintain eye contact. I remembered the view well, but was motivated – as was the case with wanting a copy of Jane’s notes of our sessions – by the fear of losing that memory one day. Having a picture of the view felt more important than having a picture of the room itself; perhaps because it was a memory of my vantage point and a direct recollection of my experience, rather than of the context in which it took place. In some ways the view was evocative of the therapeutic relationship itself. I was surprised when the service manager agreed to my request, and that she left me to it, albeit with the door open.

The room was smaller than I remembered, and less bright; though perhaps that was because I was visiting at a different time of day. I sat in ‘my’ chair – it didn’t even occur to me to sit in Jane’s, though when I think about it now, I wonder if perhaps I should have done….I took a picture of the view, which hadn’t changed, and of Jane’s chair and the wall behind it, which had. They seemed more drab and less interesting, somehow; but then again, I’m sure she was the only thing I noticed when she was there, and so they may well have been much the same.

The biggest and most reassuring change in the room, was that Jane wasn’t there. The room was empty; or at least, empty of her. I’m pleased I took the photos; I don’t need them now, but I may be glad of them in the future. And if there’s one thing that consistently drives me, it’s guarding against regret and the fear of mistakes, and at least this way even if I never look at them again, I cannot regret not taking them. But what I’m most glad of is that going into the room showed me the truth of the point my therapist has been trying to make all along – the same point she made in connection with Jane’s notes and that I’m sure she would have made it in connection with taking the photos, had I asked her before I did it. The point being that memories can be enough; that we remember what we need to. That I carry Jane and what she meant to me, with me. That the lived experience of the relationship is not something I can hang onto either via a bland record of it, or a picture of the place in which it unfolded; but that it is something I have internalised.

Going into the room and finding that Jane wasn’t there, and that that felt okay, showed me that my therapist was right. I had what I needed, and it wasn’t in that room.

***

When I spoke to my therapist about this a few days later, I told her it had been a relief to find that the room hadn’t been haunted by Jane. That I hadn’t been haunted by her presence, in it. I think that’s what I had been expecting, and was afraid of.

I realised, quite suddenly, that that fear went back to my first family loss. I remembered how on occasion, my parents and I would stay the night in that family member’s house. How I had to sleep in their room, in their bed, and that I was terrified. On the one hand, there was an irrational fear of ‘contamination’ – that somehow the illness and suffering they had been through, could be catching. By that stage I think I’d already acquired the belief that is still firmly rooted inside me today – that I will go through the same thing myself, at a similar and comparatively young age. And then there was the terror of waking up in the middle of the night and finding their ghost standing at the end of the bed. I was afraid to go to sleep and afraid to lie there in the dark. The whole room felt haunted by their presence, and by sickness and death.

My therapist said that she associated the word ‘haunted’ with an unresolved or somehow negative ending. One definition of the phrase, is ‘to be repeatedly troubled’, and both this meaning and my therapist’s, were certainly true for those early family losses which involved neither grieving nor good-byes.

Although my therapeutic relationship with Jane did not have a chance to run its course – as I saw her through a service that offered only short to medium term support – we had the vitally important chance to prepare for our ending, and to say goodbye. And so though at the time it was heart-breaking, and though it took a full eighteen months before I felt as though I had fully grieved her loss, it turned out to be a ‘good ending’. My only ‘good ending’ – so far.

What this short clip doesn’t show you, is what happened immediately afterwards. Meredith is gripped by anguished tears – presumably, with the realisation of what she unthinkingly denied Amelia. Sometimes, we act without thought; sometimes, with the best of intentions. But I hope, if nothing else, this post can be encouragement to us to try and ensure we do not deny ourselves or others (most commonly, our children), the chance to say goodbye before a loss: whether that be the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a friend due to a change of school, the loss of a pet, the loss of a house due to a move – even the loss of a therapist. Along with allowing ourselves, or them, to grieve, it gives us all the best chance that we will come to feel it as a ‘good ending’ – even if it feels anything but ‘good’ at the time – and that is a priceless gift.

 


5 Comments

Return to therapy (and semi-gratuitous animal photos)

I return to therapy shortly, after a break of almost six weeks. During the last few weeks I have wondered, countless times, what that first session back will be like. My feelings about it have changed, many times. During the first couple of weeks of the break, when I started to see how much things had changed since this time last year, and the ‘progress’ I had made; when I was feeling overwhelmed by that progress, and even scared and resentful of it – I felt a like this:

catCats know how to show you when they have a bone to pick with you – perhaps because you have left them alone for too long, or have not let them sleep on your bed – and sitting with their backs to you can be effective sign of displeasure! I have managed to stay feeling connected to my therapist during this break, and I have continued to believe in her caring. In an email to me she also noted the contrast with this time last year, when part of me had seen her as the ‘bad therapist’ who had abandoned me and had ceased to think of me. Nevertheless, as a large part of and contributor to that progress that I have been making, I did ‘blame’ her to some degree for how that made me feel. I was hugely grateful to her, and still am, for everything that we have achieved – but she wasn’t there to help me to deal with my fear of change, and in as much as she was clearly helping me, she was also leading me to a place which ultimately involved being without her. And part of me resented her for that.

As the weeks wore on and I started to cling onto the idea of her even more strongly, I allowed myself to feel more confidence and excitement about seeing her again; being close to her; exploring my ‘surroundings’ with her.

two catscats exploring

But the closer the end of the break came, the more my anxieties started to manifest in my dreams.

cat iceDreams about not being wanted and being frozen out. Dreams about missing the start of sessions and turning up late. Dreams about running out of time or running out of space. Dreams of being in a room with her but feeling very far away; of being with her but then losing her and running through corridors in great distress, calling out her name and trying to find her again. Dreams about inclement weather – torrential rain, tornados, snow. Dreams about trying desperately to hold onto something.

And over the last few days, with less than a week to go, I feel very alone. I’m trying not to, because nothing’s changed.

She’s still there, and I know that she still cares. But it feels somehow harder to hold onto that – perhaps because I know I will have confirmation of her presence very soon. Or perhaps because at the start of the break I almost felt as if my survival depended on ‘keeping her alive’, but now that she’s within arm’s reach, I know that she will catch me if (or rather when) I stumble. On the one hand I feel ‘boxed in’ by life – helpless and powerless. At the same time I feel surrounded by empty space  – and just hope that it doesn’t feel that way when we are finally face to face in a matter of hours.

 

[As you might have guessed, and despite the last photo, I am definitely a ‘cat person’!]


11 Comments

Anniversary

Two years ago, on 6 August 2013 at 6.50pm, I walked out of Jane’s office (my ex-therapist) for the last time. I have included this clip, because this was the song that I played over and over again for several months after that day. It was our ‘break-up song’, if I can call it that. I have written about our brief therapy relationship, what it meant to me and how attached I became to her, in the ‘All about Jane‘ section of my blog. Losing her meant feeling the grief I had never let myself feel over losing anyone before. It was intense, often overwhelming; it took up the majority of my first eight months in therapy with my current therapist, and it wasn’t until eighteen months after that August day, and one year after I knew for certain I would never see her again, that I felt I had actually grieved her loss fully, and had finally accepted it. To realise that was painful, but also comforting at the same time, because it meant that I had grown closer to my current therapist.

The sixth of August 2014 – the first anniversary of that loss – was a very difficulty day for me. I felt let down that my own therapist had not remembered the significance of the date and had not contacted me by email. Although I had tried to exercise ‘self-care’ by watching a film and having a glass of wine, I had ended up giving in to the urge to internet-search and google Jane, and that made me feel incredibly bad about myself, and as if I had betrayed and sullied the memory of our relationship.

And so it was with some trepidation that I was ‘looking forward’ to the second anniversary of that loss, this year. But I am surprised. I am surprised at how much better I feel than I expected. I am surprised that Jane was not the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning. It didn’t feel like I was grieving anymore. I thought of Jane – but not in a way that caused me pain. I loved her and her smile – I still do. But the only feeling I was conscious of today was missing my current therapist. Wanting to be close to her – to see her again. Wanting to see her smile, and hear her voice. What a difference to last year, when I simply felt betrayed and let down by her. What a difference to when I was still in anguish over the loss of someone I had idealized and still missed dreadfully.

It’s encouraging to realise how much things have changed – to realise how attached I have become to my current ‘therapy’ (as my therapist would say – and I feel like saying: “No! Attached to you! To my therapist! Let’s tell it how it is!“). But at the same time it is scary – progress in general is scary. It would almost feel more comforting if I was in bits about Jane, as I was last year. Or in bits about not having my current therapist around at the moment. I don’t like being okay. Change is difficult to handle – but most difficult to handle is the thought that change means that this current therapeutic relationship, which I am so incredibly attached to, will eventually need to be grieved as well. Maybe not in quite the same way as I grieved Jane – because that relationship ended prematurely, before we were done, before I had made much progress. But it will be grieved nonetheless. And yet…..

I had a lovely phone conversation with one of my best friends yesterday. And part of that conversation involved talking about some of the things my therapist and I had discussed, and the impact it had made. It was part of a wider conversation on the topic of children growing up, and the discussion I had had with my therapist just naturally came to mind. And I thought: is this how it will be, in years to come, when I no longer have her physically with me in session, but I carry her and her words with me, internally? She felt woven into the fabric of my life; it felt natural to recollect her and her words. It felt comforting, and real, and special. That, in itself, was a big surprise, given how difficult it normally is for me to retain a sense of her reality and her presence, particularly during a therapy break.

When I thought about it later, it felt wonderful – but frightening at the same time. I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know it will be a long time yet before I do. But I am so so not ready to say goodbye. SO not ready, that I am crying as I write these words. Even to glimpse that goodbye, from a distance, and to acknowledge its inevitable reality, is painful. But there is hope in knowing that her presence can still feel wonderful in her absence.

Because one day, these will be her anniversaries that I will be writing about – and I need to know that I won’t feel cold and alone, but warm and in her company. That one day we will reach a point where she can never really leave, and I can never really be left.

But not yet. Not yet.


13 Comments

Progress can be painful

Jane 2Two weeks ago my therapist suggested that one of the reasons why I may be finding things so difficult at the moment, particularly with regard to the therapy break over Easter, is that it is ‘that time of year’. When I asked what she meant, she said that it was at this time last year that I had been waiting to find out whether I would be able to go back into therapy with Jane, my ex-therapist, after a break of a few months. It was also the time when I found out that Jane was considering retiring, and would no longer be taking on any more patients.

I paused for thought – it would certainly at least partly explain why I had been so pre-occupied by thoughts of what it would take to ‘push my therapist away’, and by worries about our therapy having to end prematurely if, like Jane, her health began to suffer, or  she decided to retire. However, I hadn’t made the association with how I had felt this time last year, or indeed any association with Jane at all. What I did notice, when I started to think about it, was that for the first time it felt as though Jane was part of my past, rather than my present. The thought felt interesting, but also disturbing, and so I pushed it to one side. Jane had been so much at the centre of my thoughts and feelings over the last couple of years, even in her absence, that any shift in her position felt strange and uncomfortable.

Although Jane and I only had fifteen sessions together, I formed such an immense attachment to her and idealised her so completely, that losing her was devastating. I spent much of my first eight months with my current therapist in tears over this loss, but with the ever-present prospect and hope that I would return to therapy with Jane. I have experienced bereavement but I have never properly grieved – yet this felt like a powerful grief that took months to loosen its hold. Even up to a few months ago, I would be regularly overwhelmed, out of the blue, by sadness, loss and longing for her. I persisted adamantly in my view of her as perfect in every way – the perfect therapist, the perfect human being.

Although at various points I felt I had made a commitment to my current therapist, she was still very much ‘in the shadow’ of Jane. I constantly compared her and her words and actions, with Jane’s. Before Christmas, when my therapist made some reference to the fact that I had difficulty ‘letting go’, I was shocked and said that I had committed to therapy with her. Yet my unthinking Freudian slip when I answered her, said it all. ‘I’ve committed to this therapy – I have no choice’. Which of course begs the question – but what if I had a choice? Or rather, what if I had the only choice I was really interested in having, the option of returning to therapy with Jane?

Even at Christmas, despite the fact there had been some momentous and intimate moments in my current therapy, and I felt my therapist and I had made great progress in building a more trusting relationship; when I thought about what I would do if I had that choice, the answer was unclear. I didn’t know what I would do – the draw to return to Jane if the option were open, was still very strong indeed. I very much suspected that if I had the opportunity, it would be almost impossible to resist. Although I found it disturbing to think that I couldn’t yet say that I was invested completely in my current therapy, I also found the thought of completely letting go of Jane, just as disturbing.

Which is why last weekend was a mixed-up, bitter-sweet, wonderfully healing and also painful time. Thinking about the fact we only had two sessions left before the break, I turned again to my therapist’s suggestion that part of the background to my feelings of distress, are my memories and experiences of last year’s ending with Jane. I asked myself again the question – what would I do if I had a choice? What would I do if Jane contacted me to say that she was not retiring – that we could resume therapy together again? What would I do if the one thing I’d been wanting for so long, was actually offered to me now?

I would say no.

I’m not sure when and how the change happened, but at that moment I realised that I could now answer that question unequivocally and without hesitation. I would not choose to return into therapy with Jane. It was a massive shock. On the one hand it was incredibly welcome for the sense of relief in not feeling conflicted; the sense of security and safety and ‘rightness’ that I’d come to feel about my current therapy. But on the other hand it was very upsetting because it signified a letting go of the kind that I hadn’t done before, and that a year ago would have seemed completely impossible.

It’s not that I don’t want to see Jane again; she meant to much to me, and still does. I still find it incredibly difficult to get my head around the fact that despite living in the same city, I will almost certainly never set eyes on her again. That thought is as hard for me to comprehend as it is to try and imagine infinity. I would love to see her again – I still long for it. I would love to talk to her, to hear her voice, to see her smile. I have no photos of her, and am worried that soon I won’t be able to remember what she looked like, or how she sounded. I want to see her again. It hurts that I can’t.

But I don’t need to be in therapy with her. I have everything I need in my current therapy. It’s not always what I want, but that’s okay – questioning what I want, and why, is part of the process. I wouldn’t want to replace my current therapist with anyone – not even with Jane.

I cried tears of happiness and of sadness combined. It felt like an arriving home and a leaving behind. It was the day I suddenly realised that things were no longer all about Jane.


9 Comments

Memory Monday – “Even the hairdresser’s made me cry”

This week’s Memory Monday coincides with the first anniversary of my entry into the blogging world, and so I am linking to my first ever post:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/03/23/even-the-hairdressers-made-me-cry/

Eighty-nine posts and around 72,000 words later, and I am very much looking forward to my second year as a mental health blogger! I have gained so much from the process: community, friendship, support, information, insight, advice, humour, encouragement, challenge….I could go on. Writing, and processing thoughts, experiences and emotions through writing, has also become a key part of my therapy. So much so, that when I’m not writing, I don’t tend to feel as connected to my therapist – an interesting question in itself, for discussion during a session….

I want to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to anyone who has read or commented on a post over the last year – it’s been wonderful interacting with you and getting to know you. I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to let me know that something I have written has struck a chord or has been important to them. I have been struck in this way by so many wonderful posts by other bloggers, it’s humbling to know that sometimes others relate in the same way, to one of my own. So thank you – and apologies for the occasions when it takes me a little while to respond to a comment! I like to reply fully while approving every comment, and so I’m not always able to be as quick as I would like.

For those who follow, read and comment regularly, whose wonderful words and encouragement I treasure – an extra special thank you. You inspire me, challenge me, comfort me, and you are always thought-provoking.  I feel like I’ve got to know you a little, and some of you I am in touch with outside of WordPress, and I am privileged to think of you as friends. I very much look forwarding to continuing our discussions over the next twelve months. 🙂

As for the book described in my first ever post – I did eventually finish it, but not until around six months later. I hate to read a few pages at a time, and so I saved it until my next opportunity to spend several hours reading, when I could really immerse myself in it. The second half of the book was just as wonderful, and had exactly the same effect on me. For reasons I still don’t fully understand (I even asked my therapist to read it, in case she had any insights about it), I once again felt sadness, pain and longing while reading. And when I finished the book lying in bed at the end of the day, I spent a long time in hard sobbing. The only possible reasons I can still come up with, are the ones given in my post; but I am hoping that further along in my therapy journey, I will be able to understand them better. The reaction was so powerful, so visceral, that I do think that it must have therapeutic significance. But sometimes that significance takes time to uncover, and time to understand.

Perhaps I shall read it again just before the end of my second year of blogging. I wonder if I will have some fresh insights on it then? Or perhaps if you read it too, you can help me with some of your own! Happy reading – and THANK YOU again, for making my first year in the blog-o-sphere, such an extraordinary one….

 

 


12 Comments

Good therapy

For Jane

A fellow blogger said that I should write more about Jane, my ex-therapist, because she sounded like a good therapist. I said that I wanted to – that I wanted to write about all the things she did that made her such a good therapist, and more importantly, such a good therapist for me, as ultimately, I think that it’s the therapeutic relationship that is the key to how well a therapy works. But I also said that part of me was afraid. Afraid that if I wrote about it, there would be nothing else left to say. That all we went through and the work we did together, will make up just a few words on a page. That that will be the end of that.

But the reality is, that is the end of that, and in a way, that’s another reason for writing. Not just to show why she was indeed such a good therapist, but as a way of saying goodbye. And that is something I find it so hard to do. So hard, that my reply to Jane’s last email was a ‘holding reply’, while I tried to gather my thoughts and feelings enough to figure out what it was I truly wanted to say. That was two weeks ago, and the longer I wait, the more apparent it becomes that I’m simply postponing two things that feel impossible – finding the perfect words, and bringing our relationship to a conclusion. I can’t promise that this will be my final word on the subject of Jane, but it will be my final word to her.

And if this ‘final word’ sounds a bit like a love letter, I guess that’s what it is.  But if there’s one thing that therapy has helped me to realise about love over the last few months, is that it is complicated, and so are its origins. That although the Ancient Greeks may have tried to carve it up and separate it out  into four different types of feelings, it defies simple definition, compartmentalisation or categorisation. I don’t try to analyse my feelings about Jane. Not just because they scare me (though that is true), but because I don’t need to. My feelings just are – and they don’t have to be of one type, or another.

So how do I answer my fellow blogger? What did Jane do, that was such ‘good therapy’?

She held me. Figuratively. By which I mean, that she held and contained everything I was and felt, without judgment and without becoming overwhelmed by it. She was a vessel into which I could pour out everything that was hurting me, but without diminishing either her, or me, in the process. Her capacity to contain me was intimately linked to her capacity to stay bounded. I was acutely aware (in a way that was both painful and reassuring) of a gentle but unyielding boundary – of the fact that I was ‘fully known’ but that she was ‘hidden’ from me. She reassured me that what I did see of her, was real, and not a mask. That ‘Jane the therapist’ was part of who Jane was, and not a pretense, or a role. And I was grateful for that reassurance. But I was even more grateful for both the infinite containment and acceptance, and the immoveable boundaries that made it possible. Because of those things, she was the ultimate safe place.

She gave me permission. She gave me permission to feel the things I felt, and to talk about them. And she gave it explicitly – she said, “I give you permission”. At first this sounded strange, but now I know she did it because she knew what I needed to hear, even when I didn’t know. She knew I didn’t, in reality, need her permission (or anyone else’s) – but she also knew that I couldn’t give it to myself, because there were certain things I had never been ‘allowed’ to feel or be. And hearing her say it, made it feel okay. It made the feelings themselves, okay to be felt.

She finished my sentences. She really saw me, into the depths of me, and the words that she used, demonstrated that. My hunger for intensity; my need to ‘merge’ with her – she saw, and spoke, about them both, without me needing to say very much by way of explanation. For that hour every week, we shared the same mental space, as well as the same physical space. If ever there was someone who I felt was ‘on my wavelength’, it was her.

She walked alongside me. She knew that it was my journey, to be taken at my pace. She told me that it was okay that I couldn’t yet commit to wanting to get better, because it felt as though for that to happen, part of me would have to die. She took subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) cues from me about what I was prepared or ready to talk about, and she opened up painful areas slowly, carefully, and so very gently. She was happy for me just to ‘be there’, wherever ‘there’ was – I didn’t have to do, or say, or feel, anything that I wasn’t ready for.

She related to the different parts of me. I often felt I had two ‘modes’ in therapy: the adult who relished what felt like a truly ‘equal’ relationship for the first time in her life; and the twelve year old who felt completely vulnerable and just wanted to be guided, protected and sheltered. She made them both feel valued, and gave them what they needed. She praised and encouraged the child, for example, by letting her know that she ‘led’ the conversation, far more frequently than she thought she did. And she reminded the adult that therapy was a partnership, that they worked well together, and that she was making progress. At the same time, when the adult (or was it the child?) was desperate to lay certain ‘victories’ at her door, she saw that need and desperation, and graciously accepted those victories.

She wasn’t afraid of how I felt about her. Even though I was terrified that my attachment and my intense feelings for her would repel her, and would drive her away, she repeatedly reassured me that nothing I said or felt, changed her view of me. And she understood that even though I truly believed her when she gave me those assurances, I still doubted and panicked that I would lose her and that she would end therapy with me, when I was out of her presence.

She reached out to me. In the silences, when I could not talk because I was so ashamed or afraid of how she would react to what I was thinking and feeling, she let me know that I could do it. That I could talk to her. She always gave me time, but she didn’t just leave me drowning in wordless space – was it because she knew that the space would have felt horrifically empty, and full of abandonment?

She cared about me. Professionally, of course. But she cared about me. The same blogger who said that I should write about Jane, also said that you can train yourself to look for cues or signs that your therapist cares about you. I don’t think I trained myself to look for them – although I think it’s fair to say that my idealisation of her probably led me to look for those signs, wherever I could find them. I cannot list all of the ways in which she made me feel cared for – there are too many. Even the fact that she was always up-front and direct with me, which I had originally seen ‘just’ as evidence of the fact that she realised how important these qualities were for me in order to establish trust – I now look at as another form and demonstration of caring.

But there are two instances that I cling onto, dearly, when it comes to reminding myself of that care. Two phrases that I will never forget, that she didn’t need to say, but that meant, and mean, the world. Our penultimate session was charged with emotion, and somewhere along the way, wires got crossed – I thought she’d misunderstood something I’d said, and she thought I’d misunderstood something she’d said. When that became clear, she replied: “we were afraid that we had hurt each other”. “We were afraid that we had hurt each other”. She was worried about hurting me. It took my breath away.

But perhaps not as much as when I said that I wanted a hug but knew I couldn’t have one, and she said that I could have a “metaphorical hug”. A metaphorical hug, a ‘safe embrace’ – the most that she could legitimately give me. But in giving me that, she gave me so much more – she gave me the sense that when it came to holding me, she would have, if she could have. I hope she will forgive me if I’m misinterpreting her words. I hope she can allow herself to be misinterpreted if she knows what it means to me  – if she knows that it will allow me to hold myself in her caring and in her regard, indefinitely.

To me, this was all ‘good therapy’. It was all good therapy for me. And all of it, ultimately, amounts to this. She validated me.

Validating: ‘causing a person to feel valued or worthwhile’.

She ‘held me’. She gave me permission. She finished my sentences. She walked alongside me. She related to the different parts of me. She wasn’t afraid of how I felt about her. She reached out to me. She cared about me. She validated me. Validation – so much more than the sum of its parts. So intrinsic to the source of borderline pain; so intrinsic to its solution.

All we went through and the work we did together is so much more than the words on this page.

This is my final follow-up to the ‘holding reply’ I sent to Jane’s last email.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ for being held. So gently, so honestly, so safely. So acceptingly, so caringly, so validatingly. You will always mean so very much, and I am so very grateful for you.

Just this last time, I won’t end by saying ‘with love’. Just this last time, I’ll say what I never had the courage to say to you before.

I love you.”