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.
This weekend, my therapist is at the same conference, at the same place, as she was when I wrote this post. So much has changed in the last couple of years – for one thing, email correspondence is no longer a part of our therapy – but she hasn’t changed. Her love, and her giving, haven’t changed. My appreciation and gratitude for that love and that giving, grow every day. It’s a privilege to know her and to do this work together….
And since I wrote this post, her love of gardens and gardening has led me into this area for myself – a gift of herself and her influence that will last a lifetime, and makes life more beautiful, for all the hours that that life affords.
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’m honoured and excited to have had a guest blog published on Rachel Kelly’s website towards the end of November, on the subject of writing, and in particular on how writing poetry has been so significant for my well-being. I’m immensely grateful to Rachel for her support and her kind words, and for her inspiration and motivation to keep going both with self-care and with writing! And I’m grateful for the opportunity she gave me to share this – I hope you enjoy it!
I wrote this poem four years ago, as I was emerging from a period of deep depression and suicidal feelings. I’m reblogging it for World Suicide Prevention Day today, as I hope it might bring some light to those who are struggling in the shadows. It was the kind words and support of other people in the blogging and Twitter community, who started to bring light into my own shadows, during that time.
We are a complex mix of forces – of strength, and air, and light. But when darkness threatens to overtake us and those internal forces don’t seem strong enough, we need to wait, just long enough for the shadows to pass us by. We need to say ‘not tonight’. Please reach out if you need help in waiting, and in saying ‘not tonight’. x
I arrived at therapy this morning all prepared to plunge straight into where we left off at the last session. But my therapist’s daughter’s car was parked outside – and so something rather different happened.
I’m used to there being other people in the house when I have my sessions – my therapist’s husband, her daughter. But on Friday mornings they’re both usually at work, and I love how it feels knowing the house is empty, and it’s just the two of us. There’s this feeling of ‘having her to myself’, of feeling somehow that we are both more free to be who we are. There’s the sense that when I leave the house we can linger at the front door a little longer than a split second, that we can exchange casual words without being ‘overheard’. For a split second, leaving, I feel less like a patient, and more like – I guess, a daughter.
There was an immediate sense of having that taken away today. Utterly unexpectedly, all those feelings I know so well, of exclusion and of loss, came flooding into the session, taking over. It was about this morning – and I was aware that the experience was bringing in aspects of my childhood, when I ‘shared’ my mother with various others in the house. But it was also about the weekends, and about holidays and therapy breaks, and about the end of therapy and after – it was about all the times, now and in the future, when others will be there, and I won’t.
In a way, I’m glad that she got to see. Since returning to therapy after Christmas, I’ve felt secure enough to share a number of feelings I was too afraid to share before. That experience has been wonderfully connecting, up-building, and sustaining, and I love where we have got to in our relationship. And so the experience today felt like being able to share a level of grief and pain with her, that so far I have only been able to experience at home, alone. It was more contained, a bit quieter, a bit less messy, shorter-lasting, than it is at home. But it was physically and emotionally painful, and strong, and present. Most of all, it was shared. And for that, I am thankful.
I’m at a coffee shop, trying to ‘recover’ before I have to go into work. I know that by the time I’ve ‘written it out’ I will be calmer, and ready to face others and be a ‘different me’. I wrote this poem in a couple of minutes, in the middle of trying to write my ‘therapy journal’, so that I don’t forget everything that’s happened in therapy this week. It’s rough around the edges, and in the middle, and it’s missing words here and there. A bit like how I feel.
I wrote this almost three weeks ago, over a weekend, and meant to take it to the first therapy session of the week with me and show it to my therapist. It was during the very early days of our ‘new approach’ of trying to restrict (or cut out) email contact outside of sessions. And so in that spirit, I wanted to show her the poem in person, rather than send it electronically.
However, my mood and attitude in session were different to how I had been feeling when I wrote the poem, even though there was no obvious reason behind the change. The change wasn’t even apparent until I was in the room – perhaps something that happened very close to the start of the session (and which I now can’t remember), triggered my defenses, or perhaps it was something else entirely.
By the end of the week, things had recovered, but there was a similar replay the following week; and by the time I hit a short therapy break (which I’m nearing the end of), I still hadn’t managed to show her the poem. I now suspect I simply won’t get the chance as there will be too much else to cover before we then hit a longer, four-week break.
The break itself has followed a similar pattern to those previous two weeks – a few ‘good days’ where I feel connected, vulnerable, open, and determined, followed by a fairly sudden change where it’s almost as if a switch is flipped. I then suddenly see everything through a lens of fear, self-hatred, and potential judgment, which closes me off and puts up my defenses. Whichever lens I’m looking through, it colours everything from my perceptions, to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behaviour. It feels as though my worldview shifts into a different state, and that the changes in thoughts and feelings are symptoms, rather than causes of that shift. Which still leaves me searching for an explanation as to why this happens, and that in turn leaves me feeling incredibly frustrated and demoralised. It feels as though I have little control over these shifts; they are regular, and unpredictable, and I feel completely at their mercy. That is difficult at the best of times; but during a therapy break, when I need to try and maintain my equilibrium, it is even more problematic.
Thinking back, I think these shifts have always been there, but they are more noticeable in the context of no contact outside of sessions, where I cannot seek reassurance and try to reconnect ‘in absentia’. It also means that whatever is going on, the changes are much more clearly something to do with me and my own thoughts, as they are not happening in connection with anything my therapist might have said or not said, over email (or even my expectations of what she might have said, or not said). That is both a consolation (as it means I still feel secure in who she is) and a concern (as I have no easily identifiable trigger or explanation for what is going on).
As I was writing this poem, some of the language evoked images and memories of self-harm. Though initially it was unconsciously done, as I worked on the poem it became more intentional. Some of the images felt a little incongruous with the subject matter, which is essentially a positive statement about my determination, despite these mood/worldview shifts that I appear to be caught up in, to be open to everything my therapist has to give me, including the tough lessons that preparing to lose her, and then losing her (at the end of therapy), will bring. However, something about the images also felt right; if they are a little radical or a little unsettling, well, so is complete openness and vulnerability – at least for someone who is used to the very opposite of those things. They are unsettling because to someone who is not used to them, exercising them can feel like leaving one-self wide open to hurt and harm. And so it seemed fitting that the poem should somehow be a kind of re-interpretation of self-harm; that its words should give a different meaning to the images that they invoked.
Thoughts and images of self-harm have resurfaced more frequently since my therapist and I have virtually stopped email contact. However, I’m hoping that now, when that happens, the words of this poem will come to mind. And that instead of feeling desperate and afraid, I will remember that openness may hurt, but – just as oxygen binds to blood and keeps my body alive, the internal bond with my therapist and the love that I carry for her, sustains me. If she’s reading, I want her to know that I know that – even when that knowledge is a little buried or veiled from view, and even when that knowledge is difficult to feel.
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.