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.


2 Comments

Self-care strategies for the summer therapy break – Part 2

Part 2 of my recent post for therapy website welldoing.org contains seven more strategies I find helpful for coping during therapy breaks, and it can be found here:

https://welldoing.org/article/7-acts-self-care-better-mental-health

If you have your own tips, it would be great to hear what works for you! My thoughts are with anyone who has a therapy break upcoming….


9 Comments

Self-care strategies for the summer therapy break – Part 1

Over the last eighteen months or so, I have found myself developing a number of strategies for trying to cope with therapy breaks, and in particular the long summer break, which for me tends to be between four to six weeks long. I recently summarised thirteen of those strategies in a two-part post for the therapy website welldoing.org, and this is the link to the first part, containing my first six tips. I hope you find them useful!

https://welldoing.org/article/this-is-why-self-care-makes-such-a-difference-in-mental-health


4 Comments

Easter therapy break – Part 2

The first part of the Easter therapy break was, after all, okay. I was pleased that, after an unexpectedly difficult last session (described in Part 1 of this post), I ‘pulled it back’ and felt connected, secure, and held in mind, for the first week. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is not something I’m used to, relationship-wise. I tend to catastrophize if things don’t start out well, or as I expect them to be. The relationship with my therapist is my first in which things were rocky (understatement) at the start, and then blossomed over time. For many months it was difficult to believe that whatever might ultimately be gained, would not be weaker, or somehow permanently sullied, because of the fact it began in adversity. It shows how wrong I can be.

I was also wrong about needing to start the therapy break in a particular way (a supremely positive way, of course), in order to be able to feel connected. The first few days were difficult, and I was much more unmotivated than I have been at the beginning of the last few breaks. As with the last two breaks, I daily-tweeted my way through this one, despite my initial reluctance to do so. By Day 4 my #therapybreak tweets were showing a return to openness, vulnerability, security, and connection.

But as with all good stories, things had to get worse before they, um…..got even worse.

***

To cut a long story short, my therapist went away without telling me – which of course she has every right to do. That is, she went on holiday and was out of email contact for a week, and I had no idea. And when there was no reply to an email I sent, for several days, sadness and catastrophizing set in. Although the major part of me continued to believe in her caring and in our connection, I had to fend off the part of me that didn’t. For the first time in a long time, there was a physical dimension to my distress – I had difficulty falling asleep, and I had vivid and complex dreams. I know that the situation was intensified by a number of other factors I had been worrying about over the break, but in essence, I just didn’t understand my therapist’s thought process behind acting as she did.

It was another example of the unexpected throwing me for a loop. It happened at the start of the break, and it was happening at the end. It was not how I imagined my therapist would act – in the past she had told me (as far as I know) when she would be out of contact. But we had no explicit agreement that that would always happen, and in the absence of her telling me otherwise, I simply assumed she would be spending the break at home. I never thought to check my assumption. I told a wise friend, who thought my expectations of my therapist were unrealistically high – he put it more kindly than that – and though I hope that’s not as true as it used to be, perhaps I still fall into the trap of idealisation.

When I found out my therapist had been away, my mind came up with several possible options for why she might not have told me, and eventually settled into the firm belief that she had gone away to look for a house to buy for her retirement, in another part of the country. I was so fearfully convinced of it, that it was quite difficult not to go into my first session back and say “So, you bought a house then?”.

As far as I know, she hasn’t bought a house. Instead, it seems that she simply had confidence in me, and the progress that we have made over the past year. I think she thought that I would be okay, based on how the previous three breaks have gone. I’m very glad that she believes in me – though I did object that she ‘took the risk’ without my permission. She used the metaphor of a parent taking their hand off the bike seat to show their child that they can manage for themselves without stabilisers. I did the same to my own children, so I could understand that – is the decision wrong, and the confidence negated, if the child falls over and ends up in a heap? I don’t know….but they may well be scared of trying again.

***

At least the way the break ended meant that my first session back was a very different story to the versions of it that I imagined during the first part of the break. As you may be able to tell by now, I run scenarios in my head – a lot. And as a lucid dreamer, I’m used to stepping in and changing direction when things aren’t working out so well – in my daydreams, as well as in my night-time dreams.

*

“So, I brought a list of questions”, I said, as I handed over a sheet of paper. My therapist reached for her glasses, and I felt apprehensive; the last time I had a list to work through, she wasn’t that enthralled at the idea and felt it got in the way of the session. And as for asking her questions – on the whole that doesn’t tend to go too smoothly either.She started to read the questions silently to herself.

I said, “These are things I thought about a great deal over the break, and that I really need to talk about. They’re on my mind a lot, and I’m anxious about them, and it would help to have some answers….”.

I went over the first couple of questions in my mind: “is your daughter still living here?; how many years do you think it will be until you retire?”. Gulp. What was I thinking?

“What were you thinking?” she said.

No, hang on a second, she wouldn’t say that. And this is clearly a really bad idea…..

*

“So, I had a list of questions, but I decided it would be a bad idea to bring those and hand them over”. She looked at me quizzically, waiting for me to go on. “They were things I really wanted to have answers to, because I needed reassurance, I needed to feel better”. More waiting for me to go on. “But I didn’t bring them…..”.

“Why did you decide not to bring them?” .

“Um, because I didn’t think you’d answer them? And because it didn’t feel like the right thing to do – it would get in the way”.

“Get in the way of what?”

“Of speaking freely about what was on my mind, of seeing where the session takes us….”.

“What sort of questions had you wanted to ask?”.

I went over the first couple of questions in my mind: “is your daughter still living here?; how many years do you think it will be until you retire?”. Gulp. What was I thinking?

“What are you thinking?” she asked, as I went silent for a while.

HHmmm……not quite sure this version will go any better.

*

“So, I think she should take the questions in with her”.

“No, she won’t do that, she knows it’s a bad idea”.

“Still, I think she’ll do it. It’s what she wants to do, and she needs the answers, the reassurance”.

“As if your judgment can be trusted – you wanted to send her into session two weeks ago, with no underwear on”.

“I won – partly. No bra”.

“Not that therapist noticed….”.

“Well, I say she’ll take the list of questions in anyway – betcha”.

Oh, seriously, come on – are my ‘internal voices/parts’ really going to start taking bets on how much I can humiliate myself at my first session back?

*

After that, it was a strange sort of relief to spend the first session back, talking about why my therapist went away without telling me.


9 Comments

Easter therapy break – Part 1

I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about – which, these days, is mostly okay. But it turns out it’s not okay if it happens just before a therapy break.

“We peaked too soon” – I heard myself say during the last session, cringing inside at the entirely intentional sexual innuendo. But it also felt true. My last two sessions before the break were preceded by my therapist going away on a residential conference – a temporary parting of sorts, which I had suspected for weeks I would find difficult because it would trigger feelings of exclusion. We parted well – the sort of parting I have become used to experiencing before a longer break. It was positive and connecting, and the adult part of me was at the fore. Which is all well and good, except that it turns out that I cannot keep that up on multiple occasions in a short space of time. The positive feelings started to ebb away, and I came down off my plateau. I knew at my penultimate session that I had run out of steam, and I left feeling anxious about how things would turn out the next day.

In the absence of a list of topics (or even one topic) to talk about, this is how the session started to take shape in my imagination. I guess you could say that this became my plan.

***

I walked upstairs to the therapy room, but instead of sitting straight down and taking off my shoes, as usual, I stayed standing, and started to look at my therapist’s bookshelves. She came in, shut the door, and sat down. I imagined her looking at me with curiosity, wondering what was in my mind, and what was in play. Why were things different today? I answered her wordless questions: “Could I have a look around?  I haven’t really had a chance to do that yet. I don’t have anything in particular to talk about, and I’ve always wanted to just explore this space a little bit”.

She nodded, silently, and I turned back to scanning the shelves. What might the books tell me about the things she was interested in? About the different types of difficulties she had worked with? About the training she had had? Would she let me borrow any of them? But it wasn’t just books that filled her shelves – it was postcards, and ornaments, and objects of different kinds. I had joked a few days ago that I was developing my own little corner on a higher shelf – she had made a neat display of a postcard, a photo, and a couple of gifts I had given her. I wondered if she ever looked at them during our sessions. Or anyone else’s……

I said: “All these things….sometimes I wonder whether they are your memories, or symbols of someone else’s story. Are these keepsakes from other clients, on your shelves?”

She said: “And what would it mean, if they were?”

***

The night before the last session I was feeling restless, and went from room to room in my house. I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what. I had a strong sense that I wanted to find an object to give to my therapist, to remember me. At the same time, I wanted to find an object for me, to remember her. I wanted a chance discovery, to invest with meaning. At the start of the Christmas break I came across a book she had lent me more than two years ago. The subject matter connected powerfully with material we had been covering in session, and the book was a tangible reminder of her and our work together. I knew, wandering about the house, that there was no other such book to find – so what did it mean, that I continued to look?

***

The day came, and I walked upstairs to our therapy room. Instead of sitting straight down and taking off my shoes, as usual, I stayed standing, and started to look at your bookshelves. You came in, shut the door, and sat down. I imagined you looking at me with curiosity, wondering what was in my mind, and what was in play. Why were things different today? I answered your wordless questions: “I’m just looking at your books – I won’t touch anything. I don’t have anything in particular to talk about, could I just have a look at your shelves?”

You said: “I think we should start the session”.

Oh.

***

You asked me why things were different today – why I was sitting in a completely different position. Usually, I curled my legs under me, with my back slightly towards the door, so that I could more easily look out of the window. The point my eyes usually fixed upon when I was thinking, or distressed, or dissociated, was a small dark wooden chest of drawers, next to your chair. This time, I had unthinkingly brought my knees up to my chest, with my back towards the window, facing the door of the room, which was behind your chair. The point my eyes were now fixed upon was the opaque glass in that door and the gap underneath it – both black with the darkness of the landing at the top of the stairs.

“It’s interesting having a different viewpoint”, I said.

“I asked if I could look around, and you cut me off”, I added.

I said: “I find it interesting, how you handled that. You were much more definitive in your reply, than usual. You said that we should start the session but you didn’t leave room for the possibility that looking at and talking about the bookshelves could be part of the session”.

“I thought it was a defence”, you said.

I always thought of this space as in some way ‘my space’, even though it’s your house; somewhere I could be free and explore – I didn’t say.

I was quiet. Somewhere in the distance – or was it just downstairs? – there was a swishing, faintly thumping sort of sound. There was movement, and some creaking, and a door opening or closing. I looked at the black line under the door, imagined the darkness of the stairs beyond.

You said, “Where are you”?

I said, “Is that a washing machine?”

And then, “What is that poem, the one about being on the stairs, and meeting a man who wasn’t there?”

You looked at me – was it curiously or with curiosity?

***

You said, “It feels unsettling, because you expect therapy breaks to start in a particular way, and that’s not what’s happening this time”.

You were right, and for the last fifteen minutes of the session my defences somehow fell away, and I managed to take that in – to take you in.  You were right, and I was scared – how could I go into the break off the back of this difficult session? And how would I manage without a tangible ‘meaning-object’ to get me through? A therapy jacket, a stone, a book, a memory, a piece of music – what would it be this time? You asked why there had to be something, rather than nothing. I was quick to point out – was that your intention? – that I knew it wasn’t a case of having nothing. Some of those previous objects were still in my possession, and I had many memories, and more tools to get me through, than at any point previously. At the same time, I had nothing in particular – no object, memory or metaphor – to associate with this particular break. But that didn’t need to mean anything. It certainly didn’t mean that the break would be a disaster, or that I would lose connection with you.

“You are still connected even if you don’t feel connected”, you said. “You will still be kept in mind”.

***

When I got home, I googled ‘man on stairs who wasn’t there’, and found this poem, called ‘Antigonish’, by William Hughes Mearns:

“As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!”

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…”

Sometimes both my therapist and I free-associate via poetry – it’s one of the things I love about her. Part of me finds it a little amusing that this poem came to me in our last session, and I wonder what it might mean, if anything. It felt as though the trigger was simply my mind wandering from seeing the black line under the door, to thinking about the darkness on the landing and the stairs. Is this the only poem I’ve read that connects darkness and stairs? Why think of a poem at all?

Was my therapist curious, wondering what was in my mind, what was in play? I hope she didn’t think that my subconscious was wishing her husband away! I remembered that when I’d written about his presence in the past, I light-heartedly spoke of him ‘haunting’ the house. I thought about the fact that a few months ago, it became clear to me that one of her daughters was back living with her for a while.

‘I thought it was a defence’, she’d said.

‘What do you want to ask? Sometimes, when you say you don’t have anything to talk about, there’s a question that you want to ask’. That’s what she’d said the day before.

I said I didn’t have a question, but perhaps, this was it:

“As I was going up the stair
I wish I knew who waited there.
Is she here again today?
Or has she left, and gone away?”

***

Sharing is difficult, isn’t it?

 

 


5 Comments

#Therapybreak is over!

Last week I posted a link to my ‘Twitter story’ from Day 1 to Day 16 of my Christmas therapy break, and this week I’m posting the tweets from Day 17 to Day 26:

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/christmas-therapy-break-day-17-to-day-26

My Christmas therapy break finally ended yesterday, with a ‘return session’ of the kind I haven’t experienced before. Usually I spend some time after a break trying actively to feel reconnected to my therapist, hoping that she will somehow ‘reach out’ to help me do that. She often tells me that we are still connected, even if I can’t feel it, but particularly straight after a break that can be hard to take on board and accept.

This time, although though I spent a little while at the start of the session showing her various items and mementos of the therapy break that had been important in helping me to look after myself, I did so because I really wanted to share those things with her, rather than because I was seeking a connection I felt was missing. I went in feeling connected; and though on many levels I just wanted to ‘rest’ and have her ‘look after me’ after the ‘effort’ of being apart, the more ‘adult’ part of me stayed uppermost and I was able to talk freely and openly, rather than feeling stuck or resentful.

There were some very difficult and painful times during the Christmas break – intensely lonely times, times when I thought about death and about dying. I held those things back until I saw my therapist yesterday, and that was okay. The strong sense of connection persisted throughout the painful times and the holding back, and when I heard from her over email in response to the things I did tell her about, her responses felt somehow more ‘relational’ and less ‘practical’ than they had done in the past. They felt as though they were less about addressing immediate difficulties I might have, and more about reminding me I was kept in mind, and that our connection persisted. Perhaps her responses felt different because my emails too, were different. As with any relationship, we impact upon each other.

As tends to happen with me at any sign of progress, I started to worry about whether my therapist would think I was now sufficiently ‘recovered’ and therapy would be foreshortened. She reassured me there was still work to be done! Very early on in my therapy I asked her how you know when the process of therapy is coming to an end, and she said ‘when you no longer notice the breaks‘. Thinking of it in those terms, I can see that I still have a way to go – and in truth, I cannot even conceive of not noticing the breaks, it does not seem possible. I got through this break much more positively than on any previous occasion, but I noticed it very much. I missed my therapist hugely, and she was always in my thoughts. More importantly, I didn’t doubt that I was in hers, and that knowledge sustained me.


4 Comments

Tweeting my way through the Christmas therapy break

As I did over the summer therapy break, I have been tweeting my way through this #therapybreak as well! Last time I found it helpful for a number of reasons – as a way of sharing how I was feeling, reaching out for support, recording how the break was going (so that I could look back on it, if I wanted to), taking in the positive moments, giving voice to the horrible moments, counting down, surviving…..Most of all I think it was a method of self-care and trying to create something memorable, beautiful, and ‘out of the box’-y, out of the break. Personally, I have never really liked the idea of a ‘gratitude jar/journal’, or the ‘100 Happy Days’ concept, but only because the ‘enforced’ nature of it – having to find something positive or something to be grateful for each day – doesn’t really work for me. And yet there were many moments of gratitude, I think, in those tweets, but they were there amongst the moments of pain and depression, too. All recorded, a true picture of a break. As this is, I hope, too – I have put together the tweets so far for this Christmas break into a Twitter ‘story’, which you can find here:

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/christmas-therapy-break

The ‘story’ also introduces you to one of my more recent ways of staying in touch with the ‘child part’ of me  – the acquisition of a number of ‘Lottie’ dolls, which in a way represent different parts of me, or remind me of different aspects of myself, or of my therapy.

I hope you enjoy the story, and I will see you in 2017……

 


12 Comments

Why the Christmas therapy break can be particularly hard

I’ve just entered another therapy break – twenty-six days this time. Though the summer therapy break is longer, the Christmas break is more challenging in other ways. My latest post for the therapy website welldoing.org is an open letter to my therapist, explaining why it feels difficult, and how she has helped:

https://www.welldoing.org/article/letter-to-my-therapist-christmas

 

[This article was inspired by a post I wrote at a similar time last year; that post was prompted by an intense set of emotions that arose after I caught a glimpse of my therapist’s daughter, who had come home for Christmas. Families – both the ones that we are part of, and the ones that we are not – can lead to such strong emotions at this time of year….]