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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Update and a story by 12 year old me

I haven’t been managing to stick to my usual ‘posting schedule’  – and for some reason I feel I’m letting myself down, even though I know that that’s not the case. The ‘schedule’ has gone awry because of huge pressures of time, and sheer mental and physical exhaustion and low mood and motivation.

Things continue to be very difficult on the marriage front, and they continue to deteriorate. Following on from the situation described in my post ‘What now, marriage?‘, my husband and I are at an impasse. I have written a response to his ‘letter’ describing his fears for the future and the person he thinks I am becoming; but it is very long, I haven’t quite finished it, and so I haven’t yet given it to him. And so as we wait for the next hand (my own) to be played, I sink further into sadness and I think we’ve both stopped trying. It’s hard to try when you’re in limbo and you don’t know where you’re going.

Though work is a survival tool and a distraction, it’s been incredibly stressful and is about to get worse, in the worst possible way – I find personnel issues harder to cope with than big deadlines or volume of work. And I feel stuck in therapy, unable to really access the adult part of me that relates in a really positive way to my therapist. Either the ‘child’ or the ‘teenager’ in me have been more at the forefront, and given everything that’s going on at home which is triggering in a host of different ways, they are feeling a great sadness and a lack of love. There have been a few wonderful and connecting sessions, mainly involving the ‘child’; but on the whole I’m in that ‘teenage space’ where I’m struggling to know what to do or say, struggling to know where I’m heading in therapy, and struggling to know how to feel connected to my therapist while I feel so ‘stuck’.

On the positive side, I feel as though I’m managing to find new ways to make connections with my children, and I feel as though I’m more actively looking for those opportunities. I am still a much much ‘shoutier’ parent than I would like to be, but I hope that is balanced out by moments of fun, spontaneity, and affirmation. I am learning how to relate to them in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before I started therapy, because I wouldn’t have had the words, or concepts, or understanding (either of them, or of me). I’m also managing to exercise a bit more self-care – which unfortunately has resulted in less time to write! Though I’m still very undisciplined when it comes to getting enough sleep, I’m managing to book in events or treats for me or for the family, to add to my collection of ‘positive memories’ to hang onto, and to simply create space to be more myself.

I also try and respond creatively to opportunities to ‘do something different’ and be kinder to myself than I might have been in the past. After a painful therapy session a few days ago in which I was in a very ‘young’ and vulnerable state, I hung around the river near my therapist’s house watching and listening to a large group of swans in the peaceful quiet of the night. Somehow the sounds they were making were comforting and made me feel in good company – I wasn’t the only one being non-verbal and making strange little noises (as I had done in session, when I felt unable to speak).

Amongst all of this, I discovered some more early writings in an old box in the roof. As a child I wrote the opening chapter of many many ‘novels’ – I rarely made it past chapter two before becoming disillusioned or moving onto another story. Looking back on them now, I think they served the same function as the poetry of my teenage years – they were an expression of how I was feeling, a way of processing the emotions I kept hidden, or perhaps even the emotions I didn’t really know were there. This time, I found the very short first chapter of a book called ‘Anna’s paradise‘. Though there is no date on it, for various reasons I suspect it was written when I was around twelve years old, though it could have been earlier. The language and the style make me cringe – I wrote in the style of what I was reading, and so ‘frock’, ‘parlour’ and ‘eiderdown’ make an appearance, despite the incongruence in terms of times and culture!

When I look back on some of the things I wrote when I was younger, what strikes me most are the emotions I no longer remember, and the extent to which it seems I felt alone. I know intellectually that I dealt with all of my emotions myself, including those relating to loss and death, change and bullying. But I don’t know to what extent I thought of myself as alone at the time; I don’t remember what it felt like not just to deal with those emotions (or not to deal with them), but to deal with them with no support. I don’t know if I was self-aware or aware enough to know that that was a problem, rather than just accepting it as the way things had to be. Loss, sadness, and feeling alone – Anna’s tale is full of those things, but there is a perplexing note of hope at the end of the short first chapter. Perplexing because I have no idea what was about to happen next, and my twelve year old self is not around to tell me. I wonder what story I came up with, then, to deal with that sadness – and I wonder if it would help me to deal with my sadness now…..

***

Anna’s Paradise – Chapter 1

The evening sunset stretched out its long arms and embraced the cold grey stony building with its shattered glass and destroyed walls, which was Anna’s home. Usually when you look at such a building you get the feeling that the people living there are moody, unfeeling, sad. This was the case at Greyhall House.

Anna was a thin, short child of eight years old. If her green eyes had contained a sparkle, she could have been called beautiful, since she had a frame of wavy auburn hair round her face. Her cheeks were pale and you could see that her mouth had forgotten how to smile. Her clothes matched her mood; she wore dark colours, unbecoming of her. She rarely got a new frock, maybe once in three years. Anna had once been a happy child, full of laughter and overflowing happiness which she shared with her father, once…..but her father was now dead and she was living with her father’s sister, Aunt Elmira – sour, strict, old-fashioned Aunt Elmira. I can’t say Aunt Elmira was happy, being called out to look after Anna, and Anna felt it. It was really the mood of the people that changed the look of the house.

Greyhall House had once been called Flower Vale House. It used to be Anna’s Paradise, her dream place of delights. The gardens were always full of flowers and the forest behind the house was her chief delight. But now, even the little tree house in the forest had lost its charm and dream-like look and the thrill it used to give her every time she saw it. All Anna did nowadays was to sit in the long grey parlour with its covered furniture and china…..and think. There wasn’t much to think about, either, but Anna, blessed with an imagination that helped her at the worst of times, found plenty of things to think about, or dream about. Sometimes she might lie on her bed in her room, basking in the morning sunlight, which filtered through the shutters early on in the day. Her room was the only one in the house that was not painted grey – it was painted pink. She had a pink eiderdown and soft rosy pink curtains to match. She felt happier gazing at the pink around her and imagining she was living on the pink road of the rainbow. Altogether, Anna led a very sad and lonely life…..until….


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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.