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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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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Writing about psychotherapy – clients and therapists

There are a number of us – psychotherapy clients, that is – who write about what it is like being on ‘our side’ of the equation; what it is like sitting in that most uncomfortable of seats (though, if one is looking for at least physical comfort in the therapy room, this post describes what you need to do!).

But the blogging psychotherapist is a much rarer phenomenon; understandably, I think, in the light of the various difficulties and questions I raised in ‘Therapists who blog – I have some questions for you….!’. Nevertheless, just as therapists are fascinated by what goes on in their clients’ minds, many clients are equally fascinated about the contents of their own therapists’ minds, and in the absence of such concrete information, they are fascinated to know more about ‘how therapists think’. Of course, generalisations are as impossible to make about therapists, as they are about clients; but there is some comfort for clients, I think, in hearing other therapists’ views on questions they may feel unable to ask their own – “is it okay to be angry with you”, “what will you say or do if I tell you I love you”, “do you think about me outside of session”, “do you care about me”…to name but a few!

I follow two blogging psychotherapists – Dr Gerald Stein (now retired) and Martha Crawford from ‘What a Shrink Thinks‘ – and today I wanted to introduce you to a third, who I feel fortunate to have come across recently. Alison Crosthwait is the author of ‘The Good Therapists’ website and, as with the other two therapists I mentioned above, her writing is beautiful, moving and thought-provoking. She has published a wonderful book called ‘What it feels like to change‘ which is available through her website, and is a collection of some of her blog posts. The posts cover everything from ‘preparing’ for therapy sessions, to love and caring in therapy, to the process of understanding between therapist and client, to rage in therapy, and much more. I read it on my Kindle, and it is liberally highlighted – so much so that I really struggle to pick a sentence or paragraph to share here, but I will go with these two, which really spoke to me both in terms of my relationship with my husband, and my relationship with my therapist:

Every human being struggles in intimate relationships. The ability to sustain this struggle is a sign of health. This involves the ability to recognize the humanity of another person even when they have deeply wounded us. The ability to ask for help. The ability to speak of our experience even when it feels risky. The capacity to tolerate the ways in which those close to us do not meet our needs”.

I come in. I sit down. I say what is on my mind. And we talk. And I have to bear being who I am. Not the person I want to be, plan to be, strive to be. But me. And my therapist has to bear being who she is too. And who she is with me. And me with her. Owwww. It hurts to think about. It is so raw.”

And that’s one reason why the words of a writer-therapist can be so important to us, as clients – they write both as therapist and as client (or ex-client). They have been where we are, and can empathise with us, and we with them. They are the ‘proof’ that this process, which often seems so mysterious and indefinable, has worked for them and they see it working every day, for others like us. We can do it – even when we feel that we can’t. And we feel that we can’t, a lot.

But my favourite quote from Alison is this one, which I saw on ‘The Good Therapists’ Facebook page and which is by far the best description I have come across of what it feels like to change: “In order to change you need repeated exposure to your own coming apart, to the border between conscious and unconscious, and to the parts of yourself that you resist being with”. These questions of change and resistance have been ones I have grappled with immensely over the last few months, and I continue to go through that very painful (but rewarding) repeated exposure to my own coming apart.

Having enjoyed her book so much, I feel really honoured that Alison has included my blog in a ‘Psychotherapy Client Resource List’ that she has compiled for her new venture, ‘Therapy School’. Alison has kindly allowed me to share this fantastic reading list which you can find here (though it is normally part of her course), and I am very grateful to her for that. I really hope you find it useful – I have read a small number of these books so far, and have found them helpful and inspiring.

I am thankful for to all those – therapists and clients – who take ‘the risk’ of writing  about their thoughts and experiences, sometimes incredibly intimate ones. They have added something to my own and to others’ experiences of this amazing process of psychotherapy which, as Alison has written, is “not just about relief of suffering…it is about living a good life“.