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 under the name Clara Bridges.


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#Therapybreak is over!

Last week I posted a link to my ‘Twitter story’ from Day 1 to Day 16 of my Christmas therapy break, and this week I’m posting the tweets from Day 17 to Day 26:

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/christmas-therapy-break-day-17-to-day-26

My Christmas therapy break finally ended yesterday, with a ‘return session’ of the kind I haven’t experienced before. Usually I spend some time after a break trying actively to feel reconnected to my therapist, hoping that she will somehow ‘reach out’ to help me do that. She often tells me that we are still connected, even if I can’t feel it, but particularly straight after a break that can be hard to take on board and accept.

This time, although though I spent a little while at the start of the session showing her various items and mementos of the therapy break that had been important in helping me to look after myself, I did so because I really wanted to share those things with her, rather than because I was seeking a connection I felt was missing. I went in feeling connected; and though on many levels I just wanted to ‘rest’ and have her ‘look after me’ after the ‘effort’ of being apart, the more ‘adult’ part of me stayed uppermost and I was able to talk freely and openly, rather than feeling stuck or resentful.

There were some very difficult and painful times during the Christmas break – intensely lonely times, times when I thought about death and about dying. I held those things back until I saw my therapist yesterday, and that was okay. The strong sense of connection persisted throughout the painful times and the holding back, and when I heard from her over email in response to the things I did tell her about, her responses felt somehow more ‘relational’ and less ‘practical’ than they had done in the past. They felt as though they were less about addressing immediate difficulties I might have, and more about reminding me I was kept in mind, and that our connection persisted. Perhaps her responses felt different because my emails too, were different. As with any relationship, we impact upon each other.

As tends to happen with me at any sign of progress, I started to worry about whether my therapist would think I was now sufficiently ‘recovered’ and therapy would be foreshortened. She reassured me there was still work to be done! Very early on in my therapy I asked her how you know when the process of therapy is coming to an end, and she said ‘when you no longer notice the breaks‘. Thinking of it in those terms, I can see that I still have a way to go – and in truth, I cannot even conceive of not noticing the breaks, it does not seem possible. I got through this break much more positively than on any previous occasion, but I noticed it very much. I missed my therapist hugely, and she was always in my thoughts. More importantly, I didn’t doubt that I was in hers, and that knowledge sustained me.


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Sometimes progress is in the small things

Sometimes progress shows itself in really really small ways.

Living by your values can mean making significant decisions such as standing up for human rights, or acting in accordance with religious principles, or putting honesty before career or progression. But it can also mean buying a kettle just because you like it and because you value beauty over utility. It can mean valuing yourself enough to give weight to your own preferences and opinions.

Today my husband and I were looking at kettles on Amazon. I liked the aesthetically pleasing ones and he liked the practical ones. He pointed out the downsides of the ones I liked. Normally, I would have given in and gone with his ‘better judgment’, and then regretted it later. Today I just said that that was the type of kettle I’d always wanted, and I asked him to look into the different models with similar features, and order one that he thought had the best reviews and was not too expensive. So the pretty but impractical kettle will be arriving tomorrow.

This small thing is a big deal. I’m the person who, in the canteen at work in my early twenties, paid for a chocolate bar that I’d brought from home, because I was so conflict-averse I couldn’t bring myself to challenge the person who was charging me. I’m the person who gave in to having a more ‘practical’ engagement ring than the one I’d dreamed of all my life (there was little difference in cost, but my husband thought that the one I wanted would damage more easily). I agreed to a fruit cake at my wedding because it was ‘traditional’ even though I hate fruit cake and I didn’t eat any of it. Two years running I’ve got an air brush tattoo on holiday and both times I came away with a different colour to the one I wanted, just because the tattoo artist kindly made some suggestions about what might look good, and I went with her judgment over my instinct.

I know what I want – but all my life I’ve been used to being told that what I want is not right, or not sensible, or immature, or silly, or fanciful, or unwise, or impractical, or not traditional, or not well regarded. I’m so used to being told that I am easily led and follow others, by people who don’t see the contradiction in the fact that they just want me to follow what they want. And so I side-line what I want – I doubt it. Is it really what I want? Should it be what I want? Is it the right thing, the best thing, does it make sense? How do I really know what I want, anyway? Perhaps they are right, and I am wrong. In any case, I don’t feel strong enough, or self-assured enough, to stand up for my point of view. That is the route to conflict and invalidation, or at best to a lengthy debate in which I feel I have to justify everything I say, and to ‘make the case’ for my opinion. That’s how it’s always been – until very recently.

But I’m starting to see that there is a third option between ignoring my viewpoint, and getting involved in a lengthy argument. There is the option to not buy into a worldview which requires this kind of justification in the first place. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were having a different debate, in which he wanted me to state which I though was more important, the intention behind a statement, or how it was interpreted. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t make a choice and he didn’t want to settle for my answer that I thought both were important. So in the end I simply told him that I refused to buy into his way of thinking that required categorising things in that way; that is not my way of thinking, and that’s okay.

So today I stood up for myself without engaging in debate. I refused to buy into the worldview that everything must be justified and that efficiency and practicality are more important than how the look of something makes me feel. I refused to buy into that worldview, and so I bought a kettle. And by God I’m going to enjoy watching it boil, and knowing that it’s a symbol of progress, and of valuing myself enough to live according to my values.

Simple pleasures; small step; big deal.

[I should add that none of this is about refusing to compromise, or wanting to ‘get my own way’ without any consideration of what someone else wants. In this particular instance, other than generally always favouring practicality, my husband had no strong feelings about, or interest in, the type of kettle we have. If this had been a matter about which he felt strongly, we would, I hope, have had a different sort of conversation about it. This is about acknowledging and valuing difference, and valuing ourselves enough to think our opinions can have validity, even in the face of disagreement. It is about not getting drawn into a debate carried out entirely on someone else’s terms and according to their own rules of engagement – if you disagree with those terms and those rules. It is about speaking up if there is something that is important to you – even if you are afraid of how it will be received, or whether it will be thought worthwhile; and even if you can’t exactly explain why it is important, but you just know that it is. ]


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Memory Monday – “Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development”

A couple of days ago a reader posted an interesting question in response to my post “Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development”, which can be found here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/09/26/separation-anxiety-bpd-and-emotional-development/

The question was: “…. just read this ‘old post’… and was wondering how you would feel if you read it today. Did things change for you concerning the ‘therapy bubble’?….”

So I went back and read the post, and it seemed to fit so well with some of the things I’m thinking about at the moment in relation to therapy, that by way of answering the question I thought it would be appropriate to share it as a ‘Memory Monday’ post.

How do I feel, reading the original post now? I think I feel that I can still relate very closely to everything described in it – while at the same time recognising that some things have changed. I still find it very difficult to leave my ‘therapy bubble’ – particularly when, as has been happening recently, sessions have involved talking about painful and distressing material and have left me feeling regressed and child-like. At those times I hate leaving, and I hate the thought of coping by myself with those emotions. The need for comfort, for my therapist, is intense. As well as a desire not to leave the therapy bubble, it’s also a fear of staying in the place that therapy has taken me, but without her presence to contain me.

I think I do still feel guilt over the time and mental energy that therapy takes – or rather over the time it ‘takes away’ from my family life. My thoughts are so often absorbed by it  – either directly, or because I’m ‘processing’ something – when I should be more present with my children. However, I now often remind myself of an incredibly valuable comment that someone made to me a few months ago. I mentioned that sometimes I feel guilty because if I wasn’t spending money on therapy I could take my children to Disneyland. She said that she only wished her own parents had spent money on therapy, rather than Disneyland. And that made so much sense (and I shared the same wish – not that I went to Disneyland as a child!), that it helps me to feel a little less guilty and to more fully appreciate that in trying to change myself, I am also making things better for mine and my children’s current and future relationship. And that change will, hopefully, trickle down through the generations, into the ways that they parent their own children.

As for emotional development and the weight of being an adult – I think that my recent ability to identify ‘parts’ of myself and to relate to them almost as separate entities, and to observe their thoughts and feelings, has helped me to not get completely taken over by them, and to stay in a ‘more adult’ frame of mind more often than I used to be able to. It’s a very great struggle, and my mind and heart are still often battlefields in which wars of words and emotions take place – but it’s a question of ‘who’ is uppermost and in control, even if the ship is very difficult to steer, or even if it’s only just possible to keep my ‘adult head’ above water.

Separation is still incredibly difficult  – but I think I am better able to cope and I fight hard to try and retain a sense of my therapist’s constancy and my connectedness to her. It is often a fight – against myself, as described in a recent post – and it is far from automatic. But I am managing it more often, and as well as this being a function of the therapeutic relationship and the closeness and trust I am discovering over time; I think it is also at least partly due to the fact that I am on a more even keel because other areas in my life are slowly improving. My husband may still feel that there is little improvement in our marriage – but at least now he says that I am a much better flatmate! For me, this is a key first step – and it also means that there are fewer huge rows and triggers for my suicidal ideation.

At the end of the original post I wrote: “Perhaps when the separation becomes a bit more bearable, I’ll know that there is a bit less growing up to do“. I think there now is a bit less growing up to do – though the thought of it, and of the eventual ending of therapy, is as terrifying as ever. In that sense, I am still clinging, desperately, to my ‘bubble’ and the thought that it will burst eventually, is still heartbreaking. But for now, I am making the most of being metaphorically ‘held’ inside that bubble during session itself, and trying to remember that I am ‘held in mind’ when I am outside it.

If my reader is still reading in a year’s time, perhaps they will be kind enough to ask me the same question again? I wonder what my response will be….. 🙂


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Memory Monday – “Constant craving – BPD and the need to feel understood”

One of my earliest and still one of my most viewed posts, is this one, on the need to feel understood:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/05/17/constant-craving-bpd-and-the-need-to-feel-understood/

Although I wrote from my own experience of BPD, I think it speaks of something universal that resonates with all of us, those with a different mental health condition, and those with none. We all want to be understood. We all want to be loved. As my therapist said recently, “we all want to be special”. “Special” – am I alone in hating that word?

In many ways, things have changed a great deal since I wrote that post. Though I was thinking of leaving my therapist at that time, I have now been in therapy with her for more than two and a half years. We definitely understand each other much better – but we also still misunderstand each other with regularity. A major point of progress is that that misunderstanding causes me far less pain than it used to, and I don’t interpret it in the same way. Not being fully understood by her is far less devastating and disappointing, and I don’t take it as a lack of caring or effort on her part. I know that she cares and that she tries very hard to understand me – and that I do not make it at all easy. But now I recognise that. And I also recognise the fact that my frequent silences in session are okay, but at the same time they do not help her to understand me, particularly when I don’t tell her what’s on my mind, or what those silences mean. I think I now find it easier to have more realistic expectations and to accept that we are all human – including her – and that no one can understand another person perfectly, all of the time. The fact that she wants to understand, and tries, and is committed to continuing to do that, is what’s important, and that helps me to be far more accepting of the fact that she cannot read my mind, much as I would like her to be able to!

But I’d be lying if I said that the difficulties I spoke about in that post, have completely gone away. And though I recently experienced a significant period of growth in therapy, where a great deal seemed to change all at once, we are somehow back again in the very familiar territory of my resistance, my instinct to withdraw and defend, and my pain at not feeling understood. Though now, I think I can more accurately identify that as pain at not being seen or heard; at continuing to bear feelings not validated. I think this is subtly different to not feeling understood, but more fundamental. I think it’s possible to be ‘seen’ or ‘heard’, without necessarily being fully understood. I think you can accept, and validate, without fully understanding someone. And not being understood fully, hurts much less when you feel validated and accepted.

It turns out I have a pretty constant craving to be validated, too, and that craving causes merry hell when it’s not satisfied. Which is not surprising, as it was never really satisfied in the past. It’s a craving that makes me ashamed, because it feels so self-absorbed and self-centred. It’s a craving that means that when I’m talking about difficulties with my children, or my husband, or my mother, I need to deal with my own feelings about the situation first, before I can think about how they might be feeling. It’s not that I don’t care about how they feel, or that I don’t think it would be useful to understand their perspectives; it’s more that it was always about someone else’s perspective, and never about my own, and I can’t bear to be the subject of that repetition.

Last week I had a dream in which I rang my local doctor’s surgery but there were no appointments at all. I then rang a surgery slightly further away, and managed to get an appointment. However, when I turned up, expecting to be taken in for my appointment straight away, I was surprised to find out that I was expected to join an absolutely enormous queue of people lining up outside. I felt like giving up – it would clearly take a very long time to get to the front of the queue, and to be seen by a doctor.

Just like in the dream, I feel I’m waiting; waiting to be seen. And the longer I wait, the stronger becomes the craving for validation, and the greater the urge to defend against the possibility of being hurt. It feels confusing to be back here, but I’m better at waiting than I used to be. And after two and a half years, I’m committed to my therapeutic relationship, and I’m not giving up. In that respect, the difference between where I was when I wrote that post, and where I am now, is immeasurably greater than the length of the queue in my dream. And I hope that that is an encouragement that things change, and perspectives shift, even though journeys often go back on themselves, during the course of moving forwards.


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Progress in therapy – being ‘all in’

Therapy is a mysterious process – more an art than a science. Full of twists and turns, blind alleys and mountaintops, dark pit and revelations. Sometimes change is incremental; progress happens by stealth. At other times there are massive strides, great leaps forward all in one go.

And sometimes the ground shifts right under your feet and you’re looking at a new landscape –or at the same landscape, in a different way. A therapeutic paradigm shift.

When I said last week that I was struggling to write, it wasn’t because I was feeling particularly unwell. I was struggling because I simply could not keep up with everything that was going on inside. I didn’t have a hope of giving it all expression, let alone coherence. I didn’t really understand how it had all come about, but since just before the Easter break, things have felt different. Things have been different. It seems as though it started with the wonderful session before the break when my therapist connected with the different parts of me, including the ‘child part’, in the one conversation, in a very powerful way.

In some ways, every change that I have noticed over the last four to six weeks deserves a post. Maybe one day – but right now, things are still developing, still changing, and I need to stay with it and move forward, rather than capture what’s happened. It’s as though I suddenly woke up one morning and realised that it feels okay when my therapist doesn’t understand me or forgets something I have told her, because I know that says nothing about how she feels about me; or that when she questions me or my motives it’s not because she’s being critical but because she’s trying to help me explore something and understand myself better; or that I no longer hate my inner child, despite the strength of my previous feelings against her. That last one is a big one – I’ve gone from wanting to ‘eliminate her’ to having conversations with her. And those examples are just some of the things I have realised (or realised that I’d internalised), over the last few weeks.

One of the forms the paradigm shift came in, was a new sense of commitment. I have always insisted to my therapist, including when she spoke about my ‘resistance’, that I was committed to the process. I was committed, in the way in which I understood the term. I always prioritised therapy, I tried to push myself to talk, to trust, to be open, to let change happen. I was committed – but was I all in? No.

I was committed to taking part and to trying to change, but on my terms and in my ways, and worse of all (though I didn’t realise it), on my own. Every-time there was a roadblock, a problem – I pushed away and tried to figure it out alone. And if I came up against wrong turns and dead ends, I blamed them and retreated, or tried to break through them with a sledgehammer. A couple of weeks ago when I felt as though I was repeatedly getting ‘knocked back’ because there was something I wanted in therapy that I didn’t feel I was getting, I sent my therapist this picture of a maze, to show her how I felt.

heart mazeBut being ‘all in’ means accepting that I have someone with whom to navigate the maze and share the headache of bumping up against brick walls, as well as the satisfaction of making progress, and the companionship of the journey. Being ‘all in’ feels like another level of trust, and openness and vulnerability, but without fear. Or rather, braving the vulnerability, even when there is fear, because the trust is there. On the one hand being ‘all in’ feels like being free – on the other hand it feels like wanting to draw a circle around me and my therapist to tightly circumscribe us; like wanting to build a blanket fort with her and disappear beneath it to do our work, letting no one in or out. It feels strongly as though the next phase of the work is for us, only us, together, and that is a big part of why I’m struggling to write.

Since feeling ‘all in’, I have had some wonderful moments of happiness. And also some intense moments of pain. Because here’s the paradoxical thing about being ‘all in’; you can’t actually be all in, and enjoy everything that involves, without at the same time accepting that ‘all in’ leads eventually to being ‘all out’ – to growing up and ‘moving out’ of that warm and secure blanket fort, and to making your own way in the world.

 


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Return to therapy (and semi-gratuitous animal photos)

I return to therapy shortly, after a break of almost six weeks. During the last few weeks I have wondered, countless times, what that first session back will be like. My feelings about it have changed, many times. During the first couple of weeks of the break, when I started to see how much things had changed since this time last year, and the ‘progress’ I had made; when I was feeling overwhelmed by that progress, and even scared and resentful of it – I felt a like this:

catCats know how to show you when they have a bone to pick with you – perhaps because you have left them alone for too long, or have not let them sleep on your bed – and sitting with their backs to you can be effective sign of displeasure! I have managed to stay feeling connected to my therapist during this break, and I have continued to believe in her caring. In an email to me she also noted the contrast with this time last year, when part of me had seen her as the ‘bad therapist’ who had abandoned me and had ceased to think of me. Nevertheless, as a large part of and contributor to that progress that I have been making, I did ‘blame’ her to some degree for how that made me feel. I was hugely grateful to her, and still am, for everything that we have achieved – but she wasn’t there to help me to deal with my fear of change, and in as much as she was clearly helping me, she was also leading me to a place which ultimately involved being without her. And part of me resented her for that.

As the weeks wore on and I started to cling onto the idea of her even more strongly, I allowed myself to feel more confidence and excitement about seeing her again; being close to her; exploring my ‘surroundings’ with her.

two catscats exploring

But the closer the end of the break came, the more my anxieties started to manifest in my dreams.

cat iceDreams about not being wanted and being frozen out. Dreams about missing the start of sessions and turning up late. Dreams about running out of time or running out of space. Dreams of being in a room with her but feeling very far away; of being with her but then losing her and running through corridors in great distress, calling out her name and trying to find her again. Dreams about inclement weather – torrential rain, tornados, snow. Dreams about trying desperately to hold onto something.

And over the last few days, with less than a week to go, I feel very alone. I’m trying not to, because nothing’s changed.

She’s still there, and I know that she still cares. But it feels somehow harder to hold onto that – perhaps because I know I will have confirmation of her presence very soon. Or perhaps because at the start of the break I almost felt as if my survival depended on ‘keeping her alive’, but now that she’s within arm’s reach, I know that she will catch me if (or rather when) I stumble. On the one hand I feel ‘boxed in’ by life – helpless and powerless. At the same time I feel surrounded by empty space  – and just hope that it doesn’t feel that way when we are finally face to face in a matter of hours.

 

[As you might have guessed, and despite the last photo, I am definitely a ‘cat person’!]