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.


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Constant shifts and comforting words

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.

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A lesson in love

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.

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Pain won’t make me die

remember-poem-2

It feels as though this poem came straight out of the younger aspects of myself, and it’s as if they are speaking both to my therapist, now, and to my mother, then. I wrote it very soon after my last session – I hadn’t been expecting to write a poem but the first two verses spilled out, quite unexpectedly, in seconds. They were a kind of free association by poetry – it really felt as though they were writing themselves, arising from a deeper part of me and bypassing conscious processing and analysis. I didn’t feel as though I could leave those two verses hanging and so I added the rest, the words feeling more consciously chosen this time.

In therapy I had been talking about family deaths I had experienced as a child, and the way in which I was both more involved and more excluded than I could bear to be. I was ‘along for the ride’ while my parents looked after others; but I wasn’t communicated with about it, or helped with my own feelings (if anyone realised I had feelings about the situation). The picture behind the words is about the darkness of pain, but also about being kept in the dark. At the same time it’s about the door being ajar and being aware and frightened of what was going on, even if I couldn’t see or hear things clearly. It’s about things that I saw that were never talked about; and about things that were talked about in my presence that shouldn’t have been. The capital letters and lack of punctuation feel ‘loud’, unformed and childlike; a spontaneous, painful, ‘young-me’ plea……

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The Wrong House

I love this A A Milne poem – thank you to ‘Journey Toward Healing‘ for sharing it! It immediately resonated with various aspects of my experience of therapy. For a long time I have though of a ‘house’ or ‘home’ as a metaphor for therapy, my ‘safe space’. This poem reminded me of all the times when I expected or wanted therapy to be a particular way, and and it ‘fell short’ of those expectations. I found it hard to accept that there were boundaries, that there was a person in front of me whose responses I couldn’t control, and that just because I felt I needed something, that didn’t mean that the need had to be met in the way I imagined it should be.

The poem also reminded me of all the times when therapy was giving me exactly what I needed, but I didn’t realise it because I wasn’t open to receiving it. It came later than I wanted, or was delivered in a different way to the one I was expecting.

My therapist quoted a different A A Milne poem to me a couple of weeks ago. We had an unexpected and lovely session talking about children’s literature, poems that we liked, and what we used to read. It was wonderfully connecting and moved me to tears. For many weeks I have been feeling trapped in a young, vulnerable, sad and unloved state, and a few days before that session I had written that I just wanted to feel loved and free. Somehow the session achieved just that, in a creative and spontaneous way, and I am thankful that somehow I was open to receiving what it had to give.

It was the joy of someone taking a free, genuine and ‘no-strings-attached’ interest in who I was and what I enjoyed, without any expectation that I would conform to a particular way of being; and without any danger of me failing to measure up or being interested in ‘the wrong things’ (or not interested enough, in the right ones). It was also the joy of discovering ‘the other’ – again, without any sense that ‘the other’ demanded to be known, or expected to be mirrored, copied or agreed with.

I will be reading a lot more A A Milne over the coming weeks – part of my task of connecting more with those younger parts of me, and deriving simple benefit and joy from childlike things…..

Journey Toward Healing

When I struggle with my own words, I’ve found that the words of others can say that which I’m unable to truly express. Whether it’s through a song, a blog post by someone else, or a poem, it doesn’t matter… As long as it speaks to the deeper parts within me. As this poem does. What I love about poetry is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. Maybe this one will speak to you too.

I went into a house, and it wasn’t a house,
It has big steps and a great big hall;
But it hasn’t got a garden,
A garden,
A garden,
It isn’t like a house at all.

I went into a house, and it wasn’t a house,
It has a big garden and great high wall;
But it hasn’t got a may-tree,
A may-tree,
A may-tree,
It isn’t like a house at…

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