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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Susie Orbach talks about ‘In Therapy – the unfolding story’

Last week I attended an event in which Susie Orbach, the well-known British psychotherapist and writer, talked about her latest book, ‘In Therapy – the unfolding story’, based on the very successful Radio 4 programme of the same name. In conversation with author Jill Dawson, and in response to the audience’s questions, Susie talked honestly about the therapeutic process, and her own experience of it. It was a fascinating and inspirational evening, and I wrote about it for the therapy website welldoing.org:

https://welldoing.org/article/susie-orbach-in-therapy-clients-view

If you have the opportunity to hear her talk, don’t miss it!

 

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Writing procrastination

Sigh. I am procrastinating. I feel a great need to write about a number of major aspects of my therapy over the last few months, and in particular the mass of swirling thoughts and ideas that have been gathering, drawing together, pulling apart, coalescing, over the last couple of weeks of the Easter therapy break. But there is so much I want to say, I have no idea where to start, or how to make it all hang together. I have written far less over the last few months, for a number of reasons, but in large part because I have been trying to work with my therapist to keep more of the material of therapy within the sessions themselves, and therefore to deepen and increase the spontaneity and vitality of our face to face time. In that sense, I have seen the decrease in writing as going hand in hand with the cessation of email contact between sessions.

For me, writing serves a number of purposes, and I need to be conscious of those purposes which may no longer be appropriate, or which may even be counter-productive. Writing is one of my escapes from the world, and it is my attempt to process things alone, internally, and without reference to, or support from, anyone else. This was incredibly helpful for me in the past; but where there is a temptation to let it function as a substitute for talking things through with my therapist and allowing her to support me in figuring things out, I am trying to do something different instead. I have been trying to make brief notes and then to tell my story verbally, within relationship, rather than in writing, in front of my screen.

Writing can be helpful in gaining perspective and in reducing the intensity of emotion, because it enables us to externalise a situation and set of feelings. I often have the sensation that I am ‘writing something out’, in the sense of ‘getting it out of my system’. And often once I have poured something onto the page, I feel more detached from it – it feels much less a part of me. But it is precisely for all those reasons that writing can also be unhelpful for my work in therapy sessions. Once I’ve written about something, I feel like I have already told my story. Which in one sense, is true – but I have told it in a way that completely misses out any interactivity and response from another person, and any experience of what it feels like not just to tell my story to another, but to have it open-heartedly heard and received.

I find it very difficult to feel motivated to ‘re-tell’ a story I have already written, and when I do, it invariably feels flat, and as though I am reciting a series of events, rather than being engaged – both emotionally and intellectually – with what I am describing. There is no immediacy of feeling; I’m not re-experiencing emotions in the way I often am when I am writing. I remember an occasion a few months ago, when I tried to talk about an experience in session, which I had already written about in a blog post. I remember how grateful I was to my therapist for persevering in asking numerous questions (unlike her usual style!) to try and keep me talking and keep me on topic. It must have felt rather like dragging blood out of a stone, but it ended up being a really positive and helpful experience, and much more beneficial than the writing process had been.

But – creativity is hugely important in healing and wellbeing, and when your main creative outlet is writing, you cannot simply stop. And so I think I have been pulling back from it too much, or rather not pushing myself enough, to keep it as a regular part of my life. Perhaps I am feeling this so strongly now, because I am in a therapy break without my usual three sessions a week and, as often happens during a break, my brain is trying to process and consolidate a huge amount of information and experience. And without my therapist to talk to, the outcome of that processing and consolidation has to manifest outside myself, in some other way. If I cannot experience the ordering of that internal experience via a relational conversation, I have to create something on the page that gives it form.

But I’ll have to do it another time. Right now – I’m not quite sure where to begin…..!


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Fear and fantasy

In a couple of previous posts, I have talked about my ‘yoga imaginings’ – images and scenes, a little like waking dreams, that come into my mind when I’m in Yin yoga class. Last night’s class focused on the ‘kidney meridian’, and I was a little apprehensive because I don’t think I’ve yet managed to get through a kidney meridian practice, without crying. My yoga theory is almost non-existent, but for those who possess even less than I do, a meridian in yoga and in Chinese medicine, is considered to be a pathway in the body through which vital energy is said to flow. The various pathways are associated with key organs, and the key organs are associated with various senses and emotions. After a couple of occasions of tears streaming down my face during ‘kidney meridian’ yoga classes, I did a little reading online and discovered that the ‘negative’ emotion most associated with the kidneys, is fear. I certainly have a huge amount of that.

In a ‘standard scene’ from these imaginings, I’m standing on a beach, often with my therapist. The beach is an image of my inner safe space – my yoga teacher said that she imagines herself in a cave, but that feels far too claustrophobic for me. Last night, I was standing on the beach with my therapist, and God was with us. Probably because he’s the only other person I’m letting near me and into my head at the moment, and that’s after many years of keeping Him at arms’ length. He was at least a foot taller than me, thin, and he wore a black suit, which seems a rather odd image to associate with Him – particularly when standing on a beach.

I looked behind me and saw a long line of people, standing in pairs – a little like the animals waiting to go into the Ark. I had the impression that they were people who loved me – or were waiting to love me. And I just crumpled into a heap, held up by God on one side, and my therapist on the other. I was appalled, and scared; I felt overwhelmed.

Getting to know aspects of my subconscious over the last few months in therapy, has been painful, disappointing, shocking, surprising, and demoralising. I know there are parts of me that don’t want to change; I know that on some level, I don’t want to like myself, or see any good in myself, or believe that I matter. But I think last night was the first time I understood how much fear I hold, at the thought of being loved by people. I have always known that I wanted to be loved by one person – and I always believed that that would be enough. Over the last year or so, I have attributed that to my mother’s emphasis on exclusivity – that all other love than hers was inferior, replaceable, and fleeting. In the past, I have felt contemptuous of those who I thought loved me ‘too much’  –  whether that was the little boy at school who complemented me on my outfits, or one of my relatives, who used to shower me with gifts and money when I was growing up. But this sense of fear and overwhelm at the thought of being loved not just by one, but by many (or even a few), was a new realisation. Though I haven’t really had the chance to process it yet, I think that part of what underlies the fear is a question – what do they want from me? – and the belief that they will somehow carve me up and take me for themselves, and that there will be nothing of me left.

The bell for the end of the yoga pose rang, and that image ended, but the next scene took place on the same beach. I saw two characters which had been absent from my imaginings for a long time, though they were some of the first to make an appearance when I started yoga. They were ballerinas, dressed in white tutus – a little Afro-Caribbean girl of around five or so, and a blond woman in her twenties. They were both aspects not of a person, or of me, but of what I thought of as spirit, or something external and more powerful than me and my internal parts. I never called this set of characters ‘God’ (though they were trinity – the third being a dark haired teenage ballerina), but they exuded wisdom and commanded a sense of awe and respect from every other character in my imaginings. When they danced, everyone else fell silent, and simply watched.

This time, however, I realised despairingly that the ballerinas were not actually present. Their image was static, and flickered, like the picture on an old TV screen. It was as if, having been absent for so long, they were now simply a memory; a faded, flat, insubstantial presence. I hated it. I wanted them to become real, to walk out of the screen on which it now appeared, their images were projected. I willed it, with all my strength, but the picture still flickered, still stayed flat. With mounting frustration, I grabbed a knife and ripped the fabric projection screen, from top to bottom.

In the quiet of the front row of the yoga class I gasped, audibly, and tears welled up as I reached out my hand, eyes still closed, for a tissue. I think that for a split second I had imagined that the ballerinas would walk out, bodily, from behind the curtain screen. Instead, I looked out through the tear, and onto an enormous and consuming storm. I’m not sure how to describe it:  hurricane, tornado, wind, lighting, thunder, chaos, devastation – all on a massive scale. No structures were visible, only the sheer tumult, confusion, force, and destruction of the elements. I know how ridiculous this all sounds – while you picture us sitting there on our yoga mats with quiet music and in (almost) perfect stillness – and yet I cannot describe how shocking, horrifying, and real it felt, in the moment, gazing through that curtain in my head.

Re-reading what I’ve described, it seems that the words I have put to my experience are these: I tried to look through my projections to get to something real, and what I glimpsed was terrifying, destructive, and chaotic. I encountered, amongst other things, a visual, visceral, representation of my last few months of struggle in therapy. I have been lost, emotionally, and grappling, intellectually – trying to find approaches, solutions, answers. Everything sounds persuasive, but nothing seems capable of breaking through, to my feeling core. Well, if what I saw is what’s waiting to be broken through to, quite frankly, I’m not surprised.

That image only came once. The yoga pose ended, and during the next one, I saw myself sewing up part of the tear in the curtain screen. My therapist was sealing up other parts of it, only – don’t laugh – she didn’t need to use needle and thread, as the torn edges stuck together simply at the touch of her hand. There was a sense of closing up something painful, for another time. For a time when I might be more equipped to deal with it. My mending left visible scars, reminding me of my self-harm. My mending took great effort, and the outcome was ugly. My therapist’s mending was effortless, and after it, everything looked just like it did before. I thought of the power of her metaphorical touch, which I have wonderfully benefited from, and about the potential power of her physical touch, which I will never experience. Now there’s a storm that brewed and then simmered, and doesn’t need stirring.

Perhaps God on the beach would tell me that I gazed on an image of eternal destruction; if not of the ‘after-life’ sort, then either on the current state of the destructive and self-hating parts of me, or on the damage that they are capable of inflicting. Which may as well be eternal – from my perspective – if they lay waste to the rest of my life. In the religious imagery of my sub-conscious, it requires a death to rend that curtain into two that divides us from relationship, and there is a darkness to be walked through before restoration is possible. For the last few months my whole being has felt like either a battlefield or a desert – and I have no idea who it will be, ultimately, who ends up biting the dust.


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Post-session poem

I arrived at therapy this morning all prepared to plunge straight into where we left off at the last session. But my therapist’s daughter’s car was parked outside – and so something rather different happened.

I’m used to there being other people in the house when I have my sessions – my therapist’s husband, her daughter. But on Friday mornings they’re both usually at work, and I love how it feels knowing the house is empty, and it’s just the two of us. There’s this feeling of ‘having her to myself’, of feeling somehow that we are both more free to be who we are. There’s the sense that when I leave the house we can linger at the front door a little longer than a split second, that we can exchange casual words without being ‘overheard’. For a split second, leaving, I feel less like a patient, and more like – I guess, a daughter.

There was an immediate sense of having that taken away today. Utterly unexpectedly, all those feelings I know so well, of exclusion and of loss, came flooding into the session, taking over. It was about this morning – and I was aware that the experience was bringing in aspects of my childhood, when I ‘shared’ my mother with various others in the house. But it was also about the weekends, and about holidays and therapy breaks, and about the end of therapy and after – it was about all the times, now and in the future, when others will be there, and I won’t.

In a way, I’m glad that she got to see. Since returning to therapy after Christmas, I’ve felt secure enough to share a number of feelings I was too afraid to share before. That experience has been wonderfully connecting, up-building, and sustaining, and I love where we have got to in our relationship. And so the experience today felt like being able to share a level of grief and pain with her, that so far I have only been able to experience at home, alone. It was more contained, a bit quieter, a bit less messy, shorter-lasting, than it is at home. But it was physically and emotionally painful, and strong, and present. Most of all, it was shared. And for that, I am thankful.

I’m at a coffee shop, trying to ‘recover’ before I have to go into work. I know that by the time I’ve ‘written it out’ I will be calmer, and ready to face others and be a ‘different me’. I wrote this poem in a couple of minutes, in the middle of trying to write my ‘therapy journal’, so that I don’t forget everything that’s happened in therapy this week. It’s rough around the edges, and in the middle, and it’s missing words here and there. A bit like how I feel.

 


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This work is hard

Not for the first time, a quote from the TV series ‘Dexter’, really hit home. Earlier today I’d been talking in therapy about my marriage, and the fact that I have no idea how to proceed. I’m not after an ideal – but now that I understand what relationship is, I want to love and be loved in a way that honors that, and the person I am becoming. I don’t believe the grass is always greener – but perhaps sometimes, it is.

I ran from a parental home into a married home, taking the damage of my childhood with me. Not seeing that, then; but being unable to see through it, now. Nowhere feels safe, apart from the refuge of my therapeutic relationship that feels more like home than anywhere else. I know that there I am accepted, and there I can be who I am. It’s the only place where I can think clearly; where my sense of self does not feel under threat.

Outside that relationship, I’m not sure which way to run. But I think my therapist would say that ultimately, whether the marriage survives or not, there is no need to run. If I can internalise that place where I feel accepted unconditionally and where I can be who I am, then my sense of self is not really under threat. It can bear with the past, stand in the present, and be open to the future.

But right now I’m just too scared and confused. This work is hard.