Life in a Bind – BPD and me

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.


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The paralysis of perfectionism

*WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION, SWEARING, AND LACK OF AN UP-BEAT ENDING*

I am in a bad place writing-wise. I have a stack of posts I want to write, but none of them are making an appearance. Not so much as a witty first line or a poetic ending – and certainly not a coherent middle. My head is swimming with thoughts, realisations, connections, important ideas and understandings from therapy, all of which I’d like to capture – for one thing, I’m very worried I will forget it all and the work will be ‘wasted’. Worse than that, if all that will eventually be left of my relationship with my therapist are the memories of our sessions, I’m absolutely terrified that I’m letting her slip away by not recording everything, and that eventually nothing will be left of what we had.

Gone seem to be the days when I used to look forward to the end of the week and ‘discovering’ what it was I wanted to write about. Sometimes the subject matter took me by surprise and it was only a few hours before writing that it became obvious what I wanted to say. Sometimes I could feel it brewing and gathering distinctness during the week, until it became a half-formed (hopefully not half-baked) idea that could start to take shape once my fingers starting working on the keys.

Writing was easier, I think, when I used to have one, rather than two, therapy sessions a week. In a way, writing was a bit like having a session – it was a way of processing thoughts, digging deep, bridging the gap between sessions, and keeping my connection with my therapist alive. On the face of it then, perhaps having a second session has simply obviated some of the need to write. What I would have processed on paper, I can process in person. But no – I think in fact the opposite has happened. Having two sessions a week means there’s now a great deal more to process than there was before. The result? Mental and physical exhaustion towards the end of the week that means sometimes I can barely keep my eyes open as I try and type; less time for a single idea to turn over in my head and to take shape before the next set of thoughts takes it over and we’re onto something else. The pace is faster; the feelings are more intense; the depth is – well, deeper.

I think this all means we’re onto something. So many of the ideas come from different directions but end up feeling connected, and that feels like a good sign, as if it’s all coming together. But it also means that when it comes to writing about it, I don’t know where to start. In a way, it’s a bit like art imitating life. I talk about something in therapy but I’m not sure, come the first silence or come the next session, how to develop it or how to take it further. I’m paralysed by the sense that there must be a ‘right way’ to proceed; I panic at not knowing what that ‘right way’ is; I change the subject because that topic now feels a little lame and as though it must have run its course. Otherwise why would I not be able to think of anything to say, or why would my therapist not be asking me more questions about it? I used to sit down and write and see where it took me. Now, unless the idea feels fully formed and structured to start with, it’s hard to get going at all. Perhaps doing something for longer breeds more performance anxiety, not less. There is the idea that ‘standards’ must at the very least stay the same, if not improve. As with many things in life, I find it hard to do something simply for the joy of it – sooner or later something inside me wants to sacrifice joy to some sort of self-defined and self-defeating sense of achievement.

A few weeks ago I turned up to therapy without a plan (yes, I was brave enough to do it again!) and we had a lovely meandering session in which we filled in  few more of the details of my past, and which felt intimate and personal and special. At least, it did until near the end when I said that next time I would make sure I came with a plan. Given the implication of my comment (that things had not gone so well without one), my therapist asked me what I thought the session had been lacking. In fact, it had been lacking nothing – it had been beautiful, just as it was. Except for the fact that I couldn’t enjoy what it had been, because I didn’t feel I had achieved something. Things can’t go to plan if there is no plan. They can just go. But that feels uncomfortable – because I have no standard with which to judge that, or my performance against it.

I want to be fucking free. Of the anxiety I feel every time I think I may have said something wrong; of the fear of pushing people away; of the hatred of making mistakes; of the inability to cope with being dreadfully and inevitably ‘let down’; of the belief that what I say doesn’t matter or isn’t interesting to others; of the absolute conviction that I need one person, just one, to be everything and everyone in the whole wide world to me.

I may be in a bad place writing-wise, but I’m in a bad place life-wise, and that worries me more. Therapy is helping me to understand a great deal about myself, about others, about the way I relate to them and to the world. It is revealing the origin of past patterns and of enduring present beliefs. It is helping me to try and figure out little bits of who I am (I recently discovered I was an introvert – who knew?). But I find that the more I understand, the less I want to live. The more I see about what motivated some of my choices in the past, the less I want to live with them. The more I feel what I missed out on and will continue to miss out in future, the less I want to inhabit that future. The more I understand about how things are, the more powerless I feel to change them. I thought things were supposed to be the other way around? Someone please send me some radical acceptance – but it better come with precise installation instructions so that I can’t get it wrong.

In the past, I coped with life by changing the things around me, rather than changing me. Now, I can’t cope with changing the things around me, and although I could try and change me, I don’t think the things around me could cope. I’ve got myself into a little life-conundrum, and my brain is looking for a way out. As I was driving along yesterday, I was convinced that I saw a sign by the side of the road that said ‘Kill yourself, not your speed’. Thank you brain – as if you don’t distort the way I see the world enough, you try and give me little ‘signs from the universe’ to urge me on my way.

I can‘t see a way out of this experience, and in a rather restrained and understated British way, it’s a little worrying. I’m not sure I feel quite safe – and that’s unsettling. Someone very wise once said to me that “it is essential to change how one goes about daily life, much more than it is important to understand anything”. But here’s what I’m not sure about – is ‘how one goes about daily life’ about the actual living, or about one’s attitude while one does the living? I’m not sure I have the means or the courage to change the former; and I still have no idea how to change the latter. So far I’m only at the stage of realising that change is necessary – but that’s a bit like seeing the prison walls for the first time, when you had no idea they were there, and feeling as though they are falling in on you. It feels as though there’s a timer running – will I be able to figure out how to dig myself out, before they crush the air out of me?

I want to go back and do it all again – differently. I want the tattoo and the belly-button piercing, the outrageously coloured hair and the courage to make my own decisions, despite the belief that my opinions did not matter, and the feeling that I was not accepted for who I was. I want to go back and do it right, damn it. Maybe the second time around, I won’t be such a fucking perfectionist. Maybe the second time around, I’ll be happy to just do okay. Or maybe to just do.

Sigh….I’ll feel a damn sight safer when I can read that last sentence without my murderous brain shouting ‘WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?’ in response…..

 

 

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Memory Monday – “Escape” and “If the shadow falls”

This week’s Memory Monday is a ‘double bill’, with the first post feeling very apt right now:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/08/30/escape/

The second post is a poem that I wrote shortly after ‘Escape’, as I was starting to come out of that period of severe depression and suicidal ideation:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/09/02/if-the-shadow-falls/

This therapy break feels as though it’s hitting me harder than previous breaks, particularly given the length of time it’s been going on (only eleven days so far). I mentioned to my therapist when I last saw her, that it felt as though the separations were getting more, not less difficult, and we agreed it was because I was so much more settled and attached to our therapy. Things are bound to get worse, when it comes to breaks, before they get better.

I don’t know how much of my present depression is due to the therapy break, and how much might have happened anyway. I’ve been away for a period, on holiday, and although work was very stressful before I left, the break from my usual routine does tend to have a negative impact upon me.

Whatever the reason, I’m so very very tired. Physically tired, and mentally exhausted. I’m so tired of the constant battle going on in my head, between the part of me that has some interest in survival and in getting better, and the part that has no hope at all for the future, and doesn’t want to carry on. The latter part uses apparent logic, not just emotion; it plays on my frustration at the boundaries of therapy and it focuses me on the things I will never have; and when it comes to life outside therapy, it brings to mind all the invalidating and hurtful things that have been said to me and focuses me on the pain that being around other people, brings me. I have to keep trying to keep a lid on that part just to function and get through the day; and so that when, in a week’s time, I’m back in therapy, I’m more than a morass of tears, bitterness, frustration and anger, for someone who doesn’t deserve them.

 


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High Tide

I love these words – this poem was light on a dark day. Thank you Silver Threading.

Colleen M. Chesebro

High Tide

2014 © Copyright-All rights reservedwww.silverthreading.com

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Escape

* TRIGGER WARNING – DESCRIPTIONS/THOUGHTS ON SUICIDAL IDEATION AND SELF-HARM*

Part I

Lately it seems that my mind has been filled with thoughts of escape. Sometimes the thoughts are just there, a bit like a day dream; or in the background, filling up the spaces not taken up by life, as it happens. At other times, they wash over me like waves, taking me with them; filling me with a keen desire to break free, and to crash upon a distant shore.

Escape…..to some far off place, perhaps. What would it be like, to just run away? To leave everything and everyone behind? What is it, that that kind of escape would achieve? Who or what would I be looking for? I don’t want another romantic partner – I’m not sure anyone else would be strong enough to bear the immense strain that my mental health difficulties put on our relationship. And I know that if I wasn’t with him, I would end up in a string of twelve to twenty four month relationships, moving from one to the other in a tragic parade of almost-serial and barely-overlapping monogamy. I don’t want other friends  – I am incredibly fortunate to have a few close friends who, though mostly living some distance away, are still wonderfully supportive despite the fact that I am sometimes obstinate, self-centred, and difficult to support. I don’t believe that I would find better ones, even if I travelled to the other side of the world.

When I imagine leaving everything behind, it’s not in order to become someone else, with a new life, a new job, new friends. It’s in order to not think, feel and be, all the things that I think, feel and am. When I imagine leaving everything behind, it’s in order to be better able to retreat, without it being noticed. To be able to withdraw, without the constant need to interact. To be alone with my thoughts and with myself.

But what do I know about being alone? I have never managed it. I have always been either in the ‘parental fold’ or in a romantic relationship. Although part of me likes the idea of aloneness, I also know that it scares me. I know that in practice, it would be only a matter of time before that fear drove me into the arms of new lovers, new friends, a new life. A life still full of the same flaws, the same hurts, the same mistakes.

“She knew that the fault was not in the world but in herself, and so, it was her own self that she hated and wanted to be free of…..”. [From ‘In the Springtime of the Year’ by Susan Hill]

Part II

I know that I could never run away from this life. But my head is full of thoughts of escaping from life itself. Since my ‘therapy break’ started four weeks ago (my therapist is on holiday), I am heaping isolation upon isolation, but it is not enough. I don’t understand this drive to ‘finish what she [my therapist] started’ – to cut myself off even further, as a response to feeling cut off. I persist in not contacting those who do not contact me; I ignore those who do, though I’m grateful for their caring. I must have none of them, because I want to not be. But why, why? It’s not catching, this desire to not exist. I don’t know, I don’t know. I just know that I need to hold it within myself.

***

My eldest child asked me to help him draw a picture on my tablet. He chose a blank brown canvas, and a jet-black pen. He drew tangled lines, and then asked me to do some of the colouring myself. I drew my finger over the screen and coloured in one corner, completely black. We took it in turns, until he got bored, and I was left to finish colouring in the screen. I kept going until the whole picture  became a mirror and was covered in darkness.

Part III

My ex-therapist, Jane, asked me whether I would tell her, if I was feeling suicidal. I said that I didn’t know. Although I knew what it was like to feel desperate and to want to die, I didn’t know what it felt like to be poised on the brink, as it were – to actually be on verge of taking my own life. Under those circumstances, I had no idea whether I would tell anyone about it – but I imagined not. I wondered whether acting upon suicidal thoughts was a similar experience to the one I had had with self-harm. For a lifetime it had seemed like the very last thing I would do, and all of a sudden, I had a ‘light-bulb’ moment:  a complete shift in worldview occurred, the concept clicked into place for me, and it seemed like the most logical thing in the world. Once I realised that pain, which I was so afraid of, was not the undesirable by-product of self-harm, but the very point, and the potential source of much-needed relief, it became the obvious and rational answer to a difficult and intractable problem. Does that sound too ‘rational’, or could that also be the way in which suicidal ideation turns into action?  I’m sure there isn’t a single answer to that question – but for some, perhaps that is the way.

***

There is much debate about whether suicide can ever be a rational decision. Some claim that the desire of a terminally ill patient to take their own life, can be an example of a ‘rational’ decision to die. But the debate always seems to be between rationality versus mental illness – as if a diagnosis of the latter precludes rational decision making, at least where it concerns matters of life and death. And yet there is a growing interest in whether unbearable psychological pain may be the same as the suffering associated with a terminal physical condition, and so this may be another example of an unhelpful distinction between physical and mental illness. Perhaps the key factor is not whether or not a mental health diagnosis exists, but whether there is emotional distress. And is it purely a matter of linguistic definition that suicidal thoughts, in the presence of emotional distress, are always irrational, or is there something more going on?

A few months ago, I decided to start down a path of taking an increasing number of ibuprofen tablets (one more on each occasion), every time I was greatly distressed and wanted to self-harm (which at that time, was frequently). The decision was motivated by a desire both to damage and to prepare, as well by a need to feel in control of a part of my life. I have always found it very difficult to swallow tablets, and I reasoned that if I reached the point where I wished to take a large number of them in one sitting, it would be best to have conquered that particular hurdle in advance. And along the way perhaps I would manage, in any case, to achieve the desired self-destructive result, slowly, without the need to take ‘drastic action’. In the end, I didn’t go very far down that particular path, but that was an example of the ‘rationality’ of my emotional distress. Would a neuroscientist, looking at a scan of my brain, have been able to tell whether my thinking was ‘disordered’ at that point?

Part IV

In 1990, Roy Baumeister published an article in Psychological Review entitled “Suicide as escape from the Self.” There are six primary steps in his theory – a tick in all six boxes renders suicide a ‘probability’. A helpful summary of that paper can be found in this blog post, entitled, “Being suicidal: what it feels like to want to kill yourself”. The abstract to the article itself, reads as follows:

“Suicide is analyzed in terms of motivations to escape from aversive self-awareness. The causal chain begins with events that fall severely short of standards and expectations. These failures are attributed internally, which makes self-awareness painful. Awareness of the self’s inadequacies generates negative affect, and the individual therefore desires to escape from self-awareness and the associated affect. The person tries to achieve a state of cognitive deconstruction (constricted temporal focus, concrete thinking, immediate or proximal goals, cognitive rigidity, and rejection of meaning), which helps prevent meaningful self-awareness and emotion. The deconstructed state brings irrationality and disinhibition, making drastic measures seem acceptable. Suicide can be seen as an ultimate step in the effort to escape from self and world.”

The first four steps in the causal chain seem so easy for me to tick off, although the following is a very incomplete summary of what they entail: falling short of standards, my own and others’; not meeting others’ expectations and having my own set too high and being constantly disappointed; awareness of what I’m feeling or doing and why, but with no power to change those feelings, or for the self-awareness to change me; negative, destructive, judgemental, harsh emotions about myself. Feelings of complete lack of self-worth.

In the UK charity SANE’s latest research on suicide and suicidal thinking, lack of self-worth is one of three key factors identified, that contribute to suicide. The other two are lack of trust (in others and in ourselves), and “suicidal exhaustion”.  The SANE researchers talked to people who had attempted suicide, and one of them said this:

“Throughout all my depression I’ve always been able to be okay for other people. But I couldn’t do it anymore, I just couldn’t. And they kept saying to me, what is it, what is it? I’m going “I’m just so tired”. That’s all I kept saying, “I’m so tired”. For ages. And they were going “but why?” And I couldn’t explain what that meant, I just knew that I was so tired. And I wanted peace, I wanted some peace. And suicide was the only way.”

Part V

Back in January, I was in a deep depression. Every morning, for the briefest nanosecond on the threshold between sleep and semi-consciousness, my spirit felt light and unencumbered. But almost immediately the immense weight of fear, desperation, darkness and of wanting die, settled down upon me, and the only relief from it came at night, with the oblivion of sleep.

I’m not sure how to explain how this feeling, over the last week or so, differs. Except to say this: the darkness is not weighing me down as much, but it feels as though the tiredness, the sheer, utter psychological exhaustion, is bringing me to the end of the road. At times, I have felt calm, rather than desperate. Clear, rather than confused. I feel so little as if I exist, would it make much difference if, in fact, I did not? Somewhere, right at the back of my mind, common sense is ringing out a bell – is this the calmness of ‘madness’, of a rationality gone wrong?

***

I believe unquestionably in the benefits and importance of increased self-awareness, but living with it can be beyond painful. I’ve opened up worlds of thoughts and emotions that I was never aware of, and that I can’t now escape. And despite my protestations whenever my husband voices doubts about the possibility of recovery, I realise I have very little hope of it myself.

It feels like such a simple, logical thing. I don’t want the waves upon waves of loss. I don’t want the perpetual bitterness of the bittersweet moments. I don’t want everything that is, to remind me of everything that will, at some point, cease to be. I don’t want the constant reminders of death or abandonment. I don’t want the intense yearning for what I didn’t have or for what I can never have. I don’t want to keep remembering those that I need to forget. I don’t want the corroding regret, or the anguish of time lost or wasted. I don’t want to never be held by those I want to be held by, or to even want to be held by them.

“The world was quite empty, although the sun still shone, the birds sang……there seemed nothing whatsoever that might comfort her or give her strength and protection.” [From ‘In the Springtime of the Year’, by Susan Hill]

***

I keep asking myself, over and over again: if I didn’t have children, if death was as easy and as painless as flicking a switch, if someone else would do it for me, would I ask them to? Do I want it as much as I think I do?

***

Random thoughts keep entering my mind.

“I must fill in that form to indicate how I would want my pension lump sum to be distributed in the event of my death.” “Do pension funds pay out lump sums if death is self-inflicted?” “I need to ask my therapist if she will let Jane know if something happens to me.” “I wonder what the drug is called that vets use to put animals to sleep?” “I don’t know any vets. I don’t know any vets….”

Practical details – there must be no loose ends. But this is all backwards – how can I think of the incidentals, when I haven’t yet decided on a ‘how’, or a ‘when’? But when the impulse comes, if it comes powerfully, there must be no loose ends. Nothing left to chance.

***

The briefest, silent prayer, runs through my head. The first one in a long time. I feel guilty and irreverent – full of cheek and ingratitude. But if He’s the one who gave me life, who else can I plead with but Him, to take my life away?

 

 

 


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Suicide – Blog for Mental Health 2014

*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION*

I have spent a couple of weeks thinking about what I wanted to write about in my ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ post. Being in pain has crystallised that for me, and what I’m writing about is not quite what I expected. I thought I would expand upon the summary in my ‘About’ page, of who I am, and my diagnosis. But I knew this morning that I had to write about something else.

I spent yesterday evening reading through the Lost All Hope website. The first time I came across the site, many months ago, I was looking for a quick and painless way to die. Yesterday, although I felt unsafe, desperate for connection to someone or something to keep me anchored and feeling as though I was still a part of humanity, I knew deep down that I was extremely unlikely to ever cut the ropes of this life in a bind. But I did know that I needed help. Suicidal ideation – ‘Help me’.

I wanted to write, but I didn’t feel that I could. I didn’t feel it would be fair – on you. I have always handled my emotional and mental health difficulties alone, and the damaged part of me very strongly believes that I should continue to do so, that  grown-ups shouldn’t need support. The scared part of the damaged part is also afraid of being overwhelmed by emotion, either her own, or others’. She is therefore terrified of overwhelming you and driving you away with hers. The scared part is hard to own, hard to integrate, and she feels so very very young.

I couldn’t write, so instead I read. Maybe it’s the style in which the pages are written –very personal, very conversational. I felt as though there was someone there with me, talking me through what I was feeling. Trying to convince me that hope was not all lost. I was struck by this particular paragraph on the page describing the author’s own story:

“ ..if there is anything missing from the lives of the suicidal, it is connection with others. Being seen and loved as we are. To think, there are millions of people crying out for the same thing…..and it isn’t even something that requires great skill or money to attain.”

And that is why I’m writing about suicide in my ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ post. Because a large part of blogging for mental health, at least for me, is connection with others. Despite (for those of us who find it necessary)  the anonymity or pseudonyms, we write to be ‘seen and loved as we are’. To find those tens, hundreds, even thousands of others who are crying out for the same thing.

Connection, understanding, compassion, support – the desire to give and to receive them, without judgment, but just with love. The Lost All Hope website talks about the fact that ‘helping people’ can provide a possible reason for living. The author says that it can be as easy as speaking to someone.

I hope that my blog can speak to someone. I would like to help. To show support, to provide understanding, to educate, to make the smallest contribution towards erasing stigma so that maybe one day, more of us can use our real names when talking about our real stories.

Through writing, I want to try and re-educate the part of me that feels I have no right to speak out, or to lean on others. I want to give myself permission to feel angry, hurt, scared, and yes, angry, and to be able to express those feelings in words. I have talked about therapy being some of the best care that we can seek for ourselves, but so is this.

Finally, I would like to take part in the ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ project because I have been inspired by so many wonderful bloggers who have been open and raw and honest about their mental health difficulties. But it goes beyond inspiration – I am immensely privileged and hugely grateful to be able to call a couple of them my friends. And I am touched beyond measure that one of them was just a text away yesterday and today.

So here is my ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ pledge:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

If you would like to learn more about the project, or take part yourself, do visit this page.

Suicide is a dark topic to write about, but I hope that the message of this post is hopeful. I didn’t want these words to be about what led me to the place I was in last night. I wanted it to be about the lights that can illuminate small corners in those dark places that we sometimes find ourselves in, and guide us to safer waters, when we need it most.