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.
I wish I could email my therapist. Sometimes you just want to reach out to the person your heart feels safe with. Not even for a reply or an acknowledgment, but to be received and wrapped in thought.
You know that it will pass. That you will talk about it tomorrow. But right now she is the only person you feel intimately connected to. And you miss her, very much.
I wish that I could say: “I’m crying, and you make me feel safe ; I just wanted you to know”.
But what could she do? And would it disturb her peace of mind? And one day you won’t be able to email her just because ‘you wanted her to know’; and she wants to prepare you for that.
When I was at university I held on at night through absolute fear during panic attacks, constantly fending off the urge to go and wake up a friend. It felt like I was going to die, and I needed reassurance that everything would be okay.
I never woke anyone up. It always passed. I didn’t die. But it always felt like terror and it always felt like death. I got through it alone. I got through it.
She would tell you that you’re not alone; that you have her with you because you are slowly internalising her. That you have the resources within yourself to get through it. That tomorrow is not so far away.
I know. But is it so wrong to want to reach out through words and say: “I’m crying and I’m so tired of battles and feeling hopeless and you – you make it better and even though you’re not here I wanted to share some of myself tonight”?
It’s not wrong – but……what feels like the greatest imperative is not always the things that makes the most relational sense. There is a shifting to adjust to each other, even when apart.
I don’t know, I don’t know. I need her, I want her, I’m confused. I’m sad, I’m lonely, I’m unhappy, I’m wretched. I’m.
Waiting for tomorrow. I can honour the space and relational language we are creating – that lives in session and abides in silent connection between times.
She told you once that you were brave. This is something that she sees in you. This is something you are living out. And yes, it is heartbreakingly hard.
Therapy is a work of faith, and ‘steadfastedness’, and love. Tonight, I’m doing the work of therapy.
This weekend my therapist is at a residential conference – strangely enough at a conference centre I have stayed in myself. I have been dreading this weekend for months, remembering how I felt last time she went to a similar event. I have been dreading the feelings of exclusion, of jealousy, of knowing that she will be interacting with strangers who for these three days will have a greater insight into the minutiae of her life – what does she have for breakfast? – than I will ever have. They will be in company without the company of the clock; they will talk and laugh uninterruptedly; they will take a walk and talk – or not. They will capture the moment, in a picture. Oh to be a fly on the wall and to be able to observe her interacting in a carefree way with those around her. And yet, I know the irrationality of my fears and hopes. I have a very different – the opposite of care free – and more valuable kind of access to her than most of them will ever have ; and being a fly on the wall would be unbearable for precisely that reason. I’ve never had to ‘share her’ – I wouldn’t want to have to try.
After this, we only have two more sessions before a two-week Easter break, and I was worried we wouldn’t have time to process the fall-out from this weekend. Yet somehow, as always seems to happen, we have arrived at the point just before the break – despite my fears over this weekend – with a lovely sense of security and connection. It’s been an incredibly difficult few weeks, and I have found myself treating her in ways I have hated myself for. I have caused her to feel coerced, manipulated, and intruded upon; she’s had to wade through the mire of counter-transference and my resistance. But she is my therapist – and she continues to amaze me and to show me, through her example, what love really looks like.
What has struck me deeply, through all of this, is that she keeps on giving. She holds the space; she holds firm against the resistance; we work through the pain, the tears and the tantrums (all mine). But she keeps on giving, and she does not withhold. Yes, she withholds therapeutically, for the benefit of the work, but she does not withhold of herself in retaliation. I am so used to the tautology that misbehaviour equals punishment; that resistance leads to consequence; and that if I try and ‘win’, something will be taken away and lost. It’s why, each time she shows me her unwavering nature and her generosity, there is always the internalised voice that says ‘this time….this time, I have really blown it, she will never be the same with me again, a part of her is lost to me’.
But every time, I’m wrong; and I’m so thankful that I’m wrong. There is no retribution; and she doesn’t see herself as wronged. She knows me, and that whatever mess I bring from one week to the next is only part of me, and not the whole. She cares for the whole, and reminds me that it is there, even when I have forgotten. She responds to what I bring – without bringing up the past and without conditionality. She gives, as if I’d never tried to take what wasn’t mine to have; and that is both humbling and overwhelming.
The night before she left I sent her a brief email saying I would miss her, and I wished her an interesting time and an enjoyable walk around the gardens (replete with poems and quotes hidden amongst the trees). I also said that I hoped a poem or two might come out of this weekend – it’s been my way, recently, of trying to cope with difficult or intense emotions. I didn’t think I would receive a reply until after the weekend, but she wrote back saying she would think of me at the house and in the gardens; and she shared something (a poem and a picture) of the material she would be thinking about over the weekend. Her giving was a wonderful and deeply touching surprise. She included me, when she knew I would be feeling excluded; and she told me she would think of me, when she knew I would worry about being kept in mind, when she had so much on her mind.
And so I have drawn together my thoughts and feelings into a poem; grateful for her giving, trying not to dwell too deeply on the missing, but reminding myself of what I have. I have tried to capture a lessons in love – a moment of being together at a distance, in a picture of words, timelessly unhampered by the clock.
I wrote this poem last August when I was abroad during my summer therapy break, and posted it with a very brief introduction, in September 2015. As I wrote in that introduction: I felt my therapist’s absence even more keenly due to the physical distance, and these words just came into my mind one day, as I thought of her. The concept of a house or a home as a metaphor for therapy arose quite early in my time with her, and it is a metaphor that has often appeared within my dream imagery as well”.
At this time, my therapist is the one who is abroad (rather than me), and once again I am feeling her absence more keenly due to the physical distance. And even more keenly still as she is the one who is ‘away’, and I am the one ‘left behind’. I think the feeling is exacerbated by the fact that around me adults are preparing to go back to work after being on leave; children are excited (or not!) to be going back to school; and those in therapy are, by and large, resuming sessions with their therapists. I feel fear and dread over the recommencement of the ‘old’ routine’ of work and school; the feeling of being trapped, and of living at a frenetic pace and feeling constantly on a knife edge. I am glad that my therapist is having what I hope will be a restful break with good friends; but over the last week or so the adult part of me that wants her to have this break, has been alternating with the parts of me that simply resent it. And though I wish it weren’t the case, right now my ‘better self’ has given way to a sulky sense of ‘enough already‘.
And so I wanted to re-post this poem both as a reminder to myself that I am not alone and will be ‘home’ soon (in a week’s time); and also as a reminder to all those who are about to resume therapy, that however scary and uncertain it may feel, particularly if this is your first summer break, you are about to find your ‘safe place’ again, and I’m thinking of you as you embark on another ‘therapy-year’, and all that it may bring!
[As an aside, it was only when I was looking through the photos on my phone a few days ago, and saw a picture of the front of my therapist’s house, with her blue door, that I suddenly realised that the door in the picture which I chose to use as the background to my poem, is blue as well. I can honestly say that that was not in my mind at the time, and it was not why I consciously chose the picture – though looking back on it now it’s almost impossible not to think that I was drawn to it at least partly because it reminded me of my therapist’s house….]