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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Never enough? BPD and the need for connection

I have been reminded quite forcefully this week, of the fact that I have BPD. Not that it’s particularly easy to forget; but I think it’s fair to say that over the last year or so, the ‘label’ I clung onto so fiercely before (as without it I felt I lacked definition), has seemed a little less important. In therapy I feel I have moved away from trying to understand my ‘symptoms’, to trying to understand my own set of circumstances and past experiences, which are ultimately unique to me. Similarly, my blog posts have moved, I think, from being primarily about my experience of BPD, to being more about my experience of therapy and of life, of which BPD symptoms are a part.

But this week, I feel I am a walking example of a ‘textbook borderline’ – without meaning to cause offence, and in full recognition of the fact that generalisations are often not helpful. Though I know I have made progress in therapy, put me in particular situations and they are guaranteed, it seems, to provoke certain feelings and reactions within me which are par for the course for my ‘condition’. I believe in recovery – but more and more I’m coming to realise that it’s not about symptom elimination; but about managing symptoms and a gradual reduction in their intensity and duration. I think perhaps I will always have a propensity to react in certain ways – but perhaps in future those reactions will not be as painful or as long-lasting as they are now.

I hate the emotions that I am having. And I hate that they are happening to me. I hate feeling so incredibly needy, and I hate it even more when that neediness is directed at others apart from my therapist. For one thing, I cannot talk to those others about how I am feeling. For another, it feels like a betrayal of my therapist. In a painful double-bind, I am yearning to feel special to those others, and at the same time I yearn for my therapist to know how special she is to me. I have an urge to be mothered by those others – to be wrapped up in their arms. But I feel guilty because it is my therapist’s mothering touch that I am most desperate for, and it feels as though I am diminishing that desire by daring to feel it in relation to someone else.

What I suddenly realised this week, is that these emotions have hit me so forcefully not because they went away and have suddenly come back; but because for quite a long time now, they have been focused almost exclusively on my therapist, who has helped me to talk about them and work through them. But now they have spilled out, once again, onto others, and the ease with which that has happened, has shocked me. This week reminded me what a powerful trigger ‘confession’ can be – and that allowing myself to trust people and open up to them, can pull me into a powerful web of emotions. It can open up a ‘pit of need’ (as described in my post ‘BPD and emptiness‘) that feels utterly bottomless and futile. And because it feels so futile, my impulse is to do whatever I can to push it away. It’s been a long time since I deactivated my Facebook account in an attempt to pull away from interaction and to try and deny that sense of need – but I did it again this weekend.

The neediness and the desire for closeness are very painful, and they have been ever present during this last week. But at least I don’t feel as ashamed of those emotions, as I do of the ones that accompany them. I want to feel mothered; but I also want to feel special and unique. Which I can just about accept, were it not for the fact that this leads to a sense of ‘competition’ that feels completely wrong. In order to feel special and to be loved I have to be ‘more than’ any others who might also be vying for attention. Because of my parents’ emphasis on achievement when I was growing up, ‘more than’ has often meant ‘more intelligent’ or ‘more able than’. But – and I find this utterly reprehensible about myself – it can also mean, when it comes to those who know about my diagnosis, ‘more disturbed, more ill, more troubled’. As if I won’t merit others’ attention or their interest if I am well, or doing better than I was. And of course, as well as the desire to be ‘mother’s favoured child’, there is a feeling of jealousy and sibling rivalry towards others in a similar position. I find this particularly difficult as I have no siblings and have never dealt with these emotions before – and yet is it unmistakable that that is what they are. It seems bad enough to feel that jealousy in relation to my therapist’s other clients, who I don’t know – it seems even worse to feel it towards friends or acquaintances. I should emphasize that this is how it seems to me  – I am not suggesting that it is actually wrong or shameful to have these feelings. I know that my therapist would encourage me to stop judging myself for having them.

And yet I have a mental picture of my ‘neediness’ which illustrates how I feel about it, emotionally– it is an insect crawling along, with its antennae always searching for someone who might be able to fill that need, and its tail ready to trap and sting. It feels like a parasite, and though my emotional storm is entirely internal, I am so fearful that if any hint of it escapes, it will be repellent to others. It feels as though so many of my human interactions this week have been tinged with the sense that they can never be enough – and that makes me incredibly sad. Whether that’s the intimate session with my therapist which ended with a lovely sense of connection; or the fun, exciting and affirming email exchange with a fellow-blogger; or the interesting discussions on mental health with friends and colleagues. Interactions that felt caring, satisfying and enriching; and yet also left me feeling empty, and needing something more. Interactions that left me wondering: if you knew that while we were engaged in casual conversation, I was wishing that you would take me in your arms and hold me – would you still want to be in the same room as me tomorrow? If you knew that behind the sense of fun and the stimulating conversation, was a powerful desire for emotional connection – would you risk that conversation again? And if you knew that sometimes when I’m close to you, I just want to climb inside your heart and be kept safe there…..

My therapist DOES know. And she still’s there. But I’m not so sure about everybody else.

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