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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Sitting to feel safe

*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION*

I’ve sat pretty motionless for the past hour and a half, because if I don’t move, even if I’m not doing something to actively try and distract from these thoughts, at least I’m not doing anything to act on them either.

I can still move my fingertips on the keyboard, as I’m doing now. Twenty minutes ago I typed in the Samaritans’ email address in an open window in my Gmail account, but I haven’t typed anything else in it yet. I got distracted by opening up a private browser window and looking up more information on a particular way to die. As with most ways to die, there appeared to be numerous downsides. And then I came across this:

https://www.victoriahealth.com/editorial/suicide

It is an incredibly poignant article by the late Sally Brampton, who tragically took her own life a few months ago. It is moving, funny, and brutally honest.

I wish I had a suicidal soulmate, like Sally did. Yet somehow I can’t bear the thought of ‘inflicting’ my suicidal ideation on friends, even on those who might on some level be able to relate to how I’m feeling. I don’t want to burden anyone with my thoughts, or cause them to feel as though they are somehow responsible for my safety. I don’t want to talk to anyone; but at the same my inner critic is busy invalidating me and telling me I have no right to share this with anyone. It tells me I have no right to take my feelings seriously; that if they were serious I would have made an attempt on my life already. That if they were serious then my ‘mood states’ would last longer, rather than often being intense but fairly fleeting. I know my inner critic is a liar. I believe my inner critic.

In her article, Sally wrote that when you are in the midst of depression, “the senseless makes sense”. I don’t know whether or not it’s a consequence of neuroplasticity, but I can certainly attest to the fact that over time and given prolonged suicidal ideation, the concept of suicide acquires its own twisted type of logic. I recognise that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and I recognise the devastation it can leave in its wake. But it’s still as if the phrase ‘suicide is logical’ has been rewired into a tautology in my brain. Most of the time I can hold it alongside the concept ‘suicide is not a good solution’. But sometimes I really struggle with that. Like tonight.

I felt such a strange mixture of shock, sadness and relief, when I read how in her darkest times, Sally began to imagine dying together with her daughter, who also suffered from depression; lying side by side, holding hands, and drifting off into an endless sleep. A couple of years ago in one of my own lowest patches, I half-jokingly half-seriously suggested to a close childhood friend of mine who also suffers from depression, that we usher in our next decade together in a similar fashion; holding hands while drifting off into a place of no pain. She called me ‘sick’ and hasn’t spoken to me since. I told another good friend what had happened and she discouraged me from writing about it, saying it wasn’t really one of my better moments. It wasn’t, and I was ashamed of it. But I think I’d always been hoping that behind the ‘sick suggestion’, my friend would be able to see the fact that I loved her, and if there was anyone I wanted to share the terror and intimacy of death with, it was her. She didn’t see it – she didn’t see the strange sort of logic that suicidal ideation sometimes constructs. Thank you Sally for helping me feel a little less ashamed of the fact that sometimes the senseless makes sense to me.

And yet I’m lucky, very lucky. Lucky because I’m able to root myself to the spot and somehow convince myself to ride it out while letting my fingers do the job of trying to bring me back into safety. Lucky because at this juncture in time, this moment is a moment; intense and almost unbearable, but likely to pass relatively quickly. I am not in the midst of a prolonged period of depression; and even when I am, unlike Sally’s months and years of hell, my worst periods tend to last three or four weeks at a time.

It’s been almost two and a half hours now, of sitting in one spot, waiting to feel safer. I feel a bit safer. Maybe safe enough to risk moving. My inner critic berates me for wasting hours doing nothing. Previously, not making an attempt on my life was evidence of a lack of seriousness; now it’s evidence of a lack of productivity. Another bizarre sort of logic.

At the end of her article, Sally wrote: “So, and I say this with all my heart, hold onto hope, because if we keep it grasped tight, then summer will surely come”. I’d be lying if I said I was trying to hope for summer. Right now I’d like to be able to hope for a crisp, sunny, sparkling day in winter. Right now, that will be more than enough.


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World Suicide Prevention Day – 10 September

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on 10 September every year. It promotes awareness, commitment and action towards preventing suicide, with events and activities being held around the world. Suicide is still a taboo subject, though more people die through completing suicide than through murder or war – more than one million every year worldwide, with twenty times that number attempting suicide. Over the last few months I have written about the importance of talking more openly about suicide, and the factors that might prevent us from doing so.

But for this World Suicide Prevention Day I wanted to re-post I poem I wrote just as I started to come out of a three week period of feeling suicidal in August 2014. What prompted the poem, and the start of that emergence from suicidal feelings, was the incredibly supportive response to a post I wrote describing my depression and desire to escape from life. That support helped me to turn a corner; and as I drove past a beautifully lit medieval castle at night, which only days before had triggered mental images of falling from its crumbling walls into the shadows below – words of strength started to flow through my mind instead. I hope this poem can be an encouragement to anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts now, on 10 September itself, or in the days afterwards. An image of death and despair can become an image of strength and survival, and sometimes all it takes are a few words from some one or some others who can see that you have a place in the world – however impossible that might feel to believe right now.

The poem is called ‘If the shadow falls’.

when shadows fall final


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Why taking a pledge to talk about suicide, can be so powerful

Last Sunday I broke down in front of two people at church, and told them that I was desperate to die and that I had been on the verge of walking out and going to the spot where, when I had been feeling suicidal before, I had planned to take my own life. They weren’t horrified, or at a loss for words. They took me seriously, but they didn’t panic. They held me, and talked to me, and though the pain was still intense the sobbing died down, and some sort of connection had been made.

Less than a month ago, I signed the STOP Suicide pledge. The pledge is part of a wider suicide-prevention campaign working towards reducing the stigma of talking openly about suicide. It is one of a small number of similar projects across the UK (for example, Grassroots) which, inspired by a very successful suicide-prevention project in Detroit, are trying to reduce the more than 6,000 completed suicides (and many more attempts) that take place every year in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Both STOP Suicide and Grassroots have been launched in particular areas/counties in the UK, but their pledges can be taken by anyone, anywhere.

When a friend of mine first drew my attention to the STOP Suicide pledge, I wasn’t prepared to sign it. I thought the campaign was incredibly important and I had no problem with points two to five of the pledge – reaching out to those who are struggling, listening without judgement, and helping them to get support. But I couldn’t hand-on-heart commit to point one – “tell you if I’m struggling and need help”. I was worried that talking about suicide would be too much of a burden for others; that they wouldn’t know what to say or would feel uncomfortable. That it was unfair of me to put them in a position where they would worry about me and might feel responsible for ‘saving me’. It didn’t occur to me that it might be unfair not to give them the opportunity to try.

I’m not sure exactly how or why I changed my mind about signing the pledge. I think it was part of the very gradual process, encouraged by therapy, of opening up a little about my mental health difficulties. But even just a few weeks ago, I could never have imagined talking in that way to anyone about wanting to kill myself. I am sure that even unconsciously, the pledge was a key part of that change, and I’ve been thinking during the last week about why pledging can be so powerful.

It seems to me, that the STOP Suicide pledge is a lot like the promises I made in marriage. When I got married I became part of something bigger – not just because I was part of a unit of two rather than a unit of one, but also because that unit was publicly recognised. Taking the pledge made me feel part of something bigger than myself – part of a community of hundreds of others who had also promised to reach out and to support. My suicidal thoughts tend to be accompanied by a severe case of tunnel vision, where the only thing I can focus on is my pain. Being aware of a ‘wider picture’ is extremely difficult, but the pledge is a reminder that though it may feel like it, my pain is not the only thing that exists. Possibility and hope are out there too.

Within my marriage, I am also accountable – I am a separate person, but there is someone else to consider in the decisions that I make. Taking the pledge somehow helped me to feel accountable – to the campaign, to those other individuals who have also taken the pledge, and to the people in my own life. Not in a way that felt burdensome or restrictive, but in a gentle way that reminded me that I’m connected, and although I may feel like an island, my actions have ripples and repercussions.

Taking the pledge was a bit like taking on board an anchor that you can throw overboard when you find yourself in a storm. Talking to others did not mean I was yet in safe harbour – it still felt as though I was being buffeted by desperation – but I felt a little safer. The suicidal thoughts were still scary, but I felt a bit more in control; less likely to be swept away by them. Like being in a relationship, I had something to cling to, something to help tie me to firmer ground.

And, as it has become increasingly clear since last weekend, taking the pledge is not just about a single decision, made once, and it’s not just about speaking up or supporting someone in crisis. It’s a promise that requires daily renewal, just as staying married requires a continual commitment to choose to love someone, however easy or difficult that may be. I noticed after the immediate ‘crisis’ had passed, that even though I still felt as though I wanted to die, I felt less willing to continue to reach out. Even though the two people I talked to had given me their phone numbers, I didn’t want to ‘bother them’ any further. But taking the pledge means I need to acknowledge that it’s not just about keeping me (or others) alive, but keeping me well. It’s not just about stopping suicide, it’s about support in a struggle and about starting a discussion – and then keeping that discussion going.

Suicide prevention and reducing stigma should be a national campaign – the various projects around the UK are doing fantastic work but this message needs to be taken up more widely. The more people who become involved, and the more that the impact of these campaigns can be demonstrated, the more likely it is not only that they will continue to be funded, but that other similar projects will also get off the ground.

Taking the STOP Suicide pledge means making a promise, a promise to yourself and to others; and we tend to like keeping our promises. For me, promises matter – even when I feel I don’t. Wherever you are, may I encourage you to think about taking the pledge. It may be the most important promise you ever keep.