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 and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.


14 Comments

Uncensored: jumbled thoughts, post-therapy pain

[Usually, I like my posts to have a structure – a beginning, middle and an end. This post is a departure. It has a great many beginnings, some middles and no real end. It’s mostly failed beginnings, as I tried to start over and over and over again. At some point I gave up and simply started writing down thoughts as they came to mind. Paragraphs. Single sentences. At another point I started writing aborted beginnings again. There is no logical structure – and a fair amount of repetition.

It was a few days ago – and three hours after my last therapy session. I was hurting and I was very confused. For the last few sessions as well as dealing with the ‘content of therapy’, we kept coming back to the ‘process of therapy’ itself, which for me, was rapidly becoming a major part of the content. It felt as though almost every thought, feeling or conversation I was having, was coming up against a way in which I was wanting therapy or my therapist to be something other than what they were. I was finding it difficult to accept them, and therefore to be open to what they could give me. 

I know there is no ‘route map’ for therapy. That some of the most renowned therapists have no idea how the process actually works – they just know that it does. And so I have always tried to accept the uncertainty of not really knowing how therapy was going to unfold or what my precise destination was. But recently, and particularly at my last session, I felt completely lost, with absolutely no sense of what I was meant to be doing, of how I should behave, or of what might constitute progress; while at the same time feeling that those thoughts were ‘wrong’ because there was no ‘right way’ of proceeding in these matters.

So these, for what they’re worth, are my jumbled thoughts and feelings, as they were at the time. I share them not because they are particularly helpful or insightful, or explanatory – but only in case someone else may be feeling exactly the same way, and may want to know that they have company in those feelings, and that some of them, at least, may be short-lived. I no longer wish to undo what I have been doing; I don’t regret trusting (to whatever extent I may have done that), taking risks, loving. But I’m still confused – about many things. And I’m still not sure how to ‘do therapy’ – if not ‘better’, then at least in a way that is more helpful to me. But, as my therapist said, the more I can simply experience it rather than analyse how I’m doing it, the more we can work on together. Including what that ‘togetherness’ actually means.]

I feel horribly confused. Nothing makes sense. I feel diminished. Hopelessly diminished. Or hopeless and diminished, or both.

***

Maybe I should try and see her as my doctor. As just a professional who’s there to help me. But that is what she is, isn’t she? And maybe not constantly reminding myself of that is the biggest part of the problem.

***

I feel as though I want to undo everything that I have done or that has happened since I entered therapy. All the progress I thought I’d made, all the things I thought I’d realised. The way I thought I’d trusted and opened myself up. The acceptance I thought I’d felt. It all feels like a lie or a massive self-deception.

***

I feel numb with a dense ball of pain inside my chest. Squeezed up so tight, so that the rest of me can just be unfeeling and still, while a little part sits still and hurts.

***

If this is all just material for therapy, how does therapy work? I can emotionally disengage from the emotion – that’s fine. I can treat it as ‘material’ – but that involves even greater compartmentalisation, not less.

***

The world was safer before therapy. I may have been dysfunctional but I understood my dysfunction. It worked, it kept me safe. I knew what the end goal was – protection and survival. Now I have no idea what I’m striving for.

***

I feel diminished. As if everything I thought I’d understood was a lie or a convenient piece of self-deception. As if every time I felt a sense of acceptance it was based on an error. My error. It feels as though I can never get it right.

***

I don’t want to be a bother. All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.

***

I feel as though everything I thought I’d understood or achieved over the last two years was a make-believe story – a convenient piece of self-deception. Every little piece of ‘acceptance’ feels empty, illusory, based on a misunderstanding or misapprehension about what was going on. I feel diminished. Utterly diminished.

***

So the goal of therapy is to understand where these feelings come from. But who’s going to pay attention to the experience of the feelings themselves? What do I do with them? How do they go away? Are they even real? Or am I simply my own interpreter? Who experiences me? Are the feelings only the instrument of understanding?

***

I can’t write and it’s driving me crazy. I feel gagged, bound up, trussed by an inability to express myself to myself.

***

I feel diminished. I don’t understand. I feel like there is nothing of me left, except the edifice that I knocked down and that now needs to be built up again. I wish I’d never trusted. I wish I’d never let myself feel.

***

I feel as though nothing I say, do or feel is right. I’m not even right to think and feel that there is a right way to think and feel. I am caught up in vicious circles that it seems impossible to escape. I’m trying to step outside my worldview to put it right, but just like stepping outside of language, that’s impossible. It’s a task that can only happen from within – but I have no idea where to start.

***

“Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! “ *

***

Therapy means always thinking about what the feelings mean and what they’re telling me. If I’m missing her it has to be because of ‘this’ or ‘that’ or because she’s representing ‘so-and-so’ or ‘a.n. other’. Is there no room for me just missing her? Is there no room for the experience being meaningful and not just its interpretation? I can bring the feeling to therapy and we can talk about it. But who deals with the feeling in the moment? What deals with it? Do I just file it away for future reference? As I have always filed feelings away? Oh look, I miss her. Isn’t that interesting. Let’s talk about it in two days time. Won’t that be nice. The fact is I miss her and it’s visceral and it’s real and the only antidote feels like some comfort, a sense of her presence or some simple words.

***

Is she only ever a representation? Not real within herself? At least, not to me? Only ever a projection?

***

I need to get my head around the fact that she shouldn’t mean this much to me. That she should be like a doctor or a colleague. Someone there to help me with a problem but not to get emotionally invested in.

***

I dreamed that I had a building made of white lego, with a white terrace at the top with lots of tables and chairs on it. I dreamed that I started to dismantle the lego and take the supporting bricks out from under the terrace. In the end, it was like a letter ‘U’ laying on its side. A bottom, and a top, with nothing in between. It looked and felt fragile, with no underpinning. What would happen to that terrace?

***

I feel like that lego structure. I feel diminished. As if everything I thought I’d understood and felt in connection with therapy, has been dismantled. Over the last two years I thought I was building something – but now I realise it’s all just air.

***

I felt accepted at least partly due to a sense of freedom to express myself and make myself and my needs known, in the moment, rather than being held back always by politeness, or fear, or propriety, or wanting to protect her from myself. Spontaneity and freedom as opposed to constant questioning, over-thinking, rumination, self-doubt, anxiety. And all without judgment. But that was a mistake.

***

I don’t want to be any trouble. All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.

***

Maybe it would work better if I saw her just as a professional who is there to help me with something. But that is exactly what she is. And perhaps that is the heart of the matter.

***

She is just a professional there to help me. Repeat after me. Endless times, please. Until I can believe it. Until I can act on it.

***

But for me professional means unemotional and unattached. No connectedness. If she is just a professional there to help me I should be able to go in, talk about how I’m feeling, have a conversation, leave, feel better or perhaps not feel better. But not think about her. Not dream about her. Not want to be close to her. Not miss her. Not want to share everything with her. I wouldn’t feel that way about my doctor – so why should I feel that way about her? It feels like I’m trying to talk myself into something and I don’t even know if it makes any sense.

[* quote from ‘Asleep’ by Wilfred Owen]

Advertisements


27 Comments

My borderline mind

For forty-eight hours after my last therapy session, I felt utterly broken. I cried then slept. I slept then cried. Amongst the battle of words going on inside my head, a few sentences crystallised to describe how I was feeling and what I was realising .

perfect dilemma

It was not an entirely new thought – but it had never been so precisely articulated. The realisation was devastating and the implication radical. At a (mostly) unconscious level, these sentences have defined – continue to define – how I think, act, react, and feel.  Trying to move away from that will involve nothing less than a complete realignment of my very way of being.

How many can relate to precisely these emotions? How can thoughts that are so ‘unrealistic’ (let’s not use the word ‘wrong’, for fear of self-invalidation, even though that is how it feels) seem so utterly persuasive and legitimate?

And how – how – can we wrest ourselves from this way of thinking, without it simply feeling like compromising on life, sacrificing ourselves, and burying our desires?


11 Comments

Therapy – a few thoughts

The process of therapy is often on my mind, for many reasons, and it’s something that I hope to write a great deal more about over the coming months. I don’t think I can avoid it, as it forms either the under-current or the overt subject of many of my current therapy sessions, particularly since I lost my ‘perfect’ therapeutic relationship a few months ago. I have done endless internet searching and reading into various aspects of therapy, desperate to find out more about what kind of therapy is ‘best’ for BPD, what I should expect from therapy and what the therapeutic relationship should ‘look like’. The well-known book about BPD, ‘I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality’, has an excellent section on the various therapies available and the differences between them, and I have round the  ‘In Therapy (a user’s guide to Psychotherapy)’ blog on the Psychology Today website, to be another interesting source of information and views on a range of therapy related issues. Most recently, I have been very pre-occupied by my strong and all-consuming need to feel cared for in therapy, and on that point, I found the following post entitled “Does my therapist care about me?” very helpful.

But for now, I’d just like to make a couple of general points I have learned about therapy. However ‘successful’, or otherwise, my sessions might have been; whether or not I have ended up more depressed and in more anguish when I finished than when I started (!), therapy has undoubtedly made me think about myself, my feelings and my actions, far more than I have ever done before. For the first time, I connected my feelings and behaviour over the last three years or so, with what I went through over a ten year period from starting in the early 1990s. What I now think of as my ‘BPD remission’ period (which ended a few years ago), was preventing me from appreciating the entire picture, whereas I now regularly make connections and see patterns between current events, and past events.

Therapy has made me far more self-aware than I have ever been, although it has to be said that for me, that is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I believe that self-awareness is fundamental to understanding behaviours, feelings and their origins, and enabling someone to change (if they want to). I have a deep-seated need to understand what I am going through, although ‘deciding to get better’ is something I am actively struggling with. On the other hand, however, self-awareness can feed the BPD individual’s lack of self-worth and perception of themselves as evil. Linehan put it perfectly when she said in Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (1993): “The patient’s first dilemma, has to do with whom to blame for her predicament. Is she evil, the cause of her own troubles? Or, are other people in the environment or fate to blame? … Is the patient really vulnerable and unable to control her own behavior …? Or is she bad, able to control her reactions but unwilling to do so …?” If I am aware of my behaviour, does that mean that I am causing it? If I am aware of it but do not stop it, is it therefore intentional? And what does all of that say about me as a person?

Therapy has also made me realise that fundamental to the process, particularly for someone with BPD, is the therapist themselves. However appropriate the type of therapy, it simply will not work if the relationship with the therapist is not right. I’m not defining what ‘right’ means – it could mean different things for different people – but it’s paramount that that relationship works for you. I think this is particularly true for people with BPD, given that so often our struggles centre around interpersonal relationships, and our relationship with our therapist is not exempt from that – indeed, we often mirror the turbulence of our other relationships, with our therapists. Therapists who have worked with BPD before will know to expect this and will handle it appropriately, but unfortunately, this is not always the case with those who have less experience in the field, or who are dealing with those who have yet to be diagnosed.

We idealise and devalue our therapists; we test them; we fall in love with them; we fear rejection by them; we trust them one day and are suspicious of them the next; we get angry with them; we push them away; we want to be loved by them; we push boundaries with them; we want them to carry us and our pain, and then we want nothing to do with them. As well as being able to understand and deal with all of that, the best therapists will make us feel safe, understood, and, I would suggest, cared for – something that as people with BPD, we crave. They will also ask the right questions and they will make us think, but they will not judge –  they will empower us rather than try to persuade us into making ‘sensible’ decisions, and they will be honest and empathetic to our needs. A high bar to measure up to? Absolutely – but these therapists do exist and I hope that this will give hope and encouragement to those who may not have had the best experiences of therapy so far.

Therapy is often emotionally draining – without the right ingredients in place, it can also be frustrating, confusing, and potentially damaging. However, it can also be a safe haven – inspiring, supportive, transformational, and a much needed regular opportunity to share the heavy burden that we carry, with someone far more able to contain and bear our pain, than we are often able to. Sessions will vary – some will feel productive, some will feel emotional, some will feel difficult and stilted, some will feel as if you are making great strides forward, and some will feel as if you’re standing still, or even moving backwards. I’ve only recently started to come to grips with the idea that I don’t need to have a startling revelation, be overcome with tears, or feel intense emotions during therapy in order for it to be ‘working’. And some of the best and most ‘connecting’ experiences that I have had in therapy have been those sessions in which my therapist and I have laughed together. In the midst of a sad and somewhat tragic moment, we burst out laughing at something I had said  – not in a way that felt as if my therapist was laughing ‘at me’, but in a way that felt as though we were of one mind in recognising the bitter-sweet incongruity of the moment – from the sublime to the ridiculous and back to the sublime again.

I know that as people with BPD, we can spend our lives looking for ‘the perfect care’, and are repeatedly told we have to accept that this does not exist. Maybe that’s the case – but a good relationship in therapy is some of the best care that we can seek and give ourselves. If you’re reading this and have also been diagnosed with BPD, I really hope it makes a difference to you, as I’m hoping that it will to me.