Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by


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”.



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?




#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:

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.


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:

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……



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 is an open letter to my therapist, explaining why it feels difficult, and how she has helped:


[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….]



Together again (to my therapist, on return to therapy)


Illustration by Paul Howard, from Jill Tomlinson’s ‘The otter who wanted to know’

“As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself, and truly meet someone” – from ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’, by Muriel Barbery

Things have changed. It feels so strange, on one level. In another way things are much the same – work, school, tantrums (sometimes mine), birthday parties, after school activities, deadlines, arguments, tears, depression, anxiety, therapy. Therapy. Therapy has changed. And it doesn’t work pretending that it hasn’t, because part of what has changed is a deeper level of awareness. I can’t pull the wool over my new ‘inner eye’; my subconscious can’t trip me up quite as much because I have my own little ‘spy’ in there – this new, more grown-up part of me that knows my internal characters and the wily ways of the ones who like to steer me into trouble.

But sometimes the more grown-up me still gets side-lined. When I saw you for the first time after our six and a half week therapy break, I came in with less hostility than I had been expecting, given how cut-off from you I’d been feeling over the last few days, but still with a hefty amount of defensiveness. I resented the lack of an email to reassure me before we met up again; and the fact that I’d had to cope alone for so long.

I brought you a few small things from my holiday, but if I was hoping they would help to re-establish a connection, the attempt felt flat, and I wondered if you minded what I’d done. We had a conversation about the latter part of the therapy break, and why it was so difficult, and the conversation was…….okay. You talked, though nowhere near as much as I wanted you to. I talked, though nowhere near as honestly as I could have done. And when I left it was with an oppressive, despairing and enraged sense that if we were going to re-establish a connection, I was going to have to do the work all by myself. The session was ‘business as usual’, but I had wanted it to be ‘unusual’, and to explicitly recognise what I’d done in managing to get through the break fairly positively (on the whole). You were amazing in all the ways you helped me to prepare for and cope with the break; I wanted you to ‘go the extra mile’ in welcoming me back, too. I wanted to know that I was wanted. That you were glad to see me back. That you missed me – of course you wouldn’t tell me as much, but perhaps there would be something in something that you said or did, that would let me know.

By the time I got home the anger was consuming me. I was desperate to draw a picture of it, but I can’t draw. Instead I ‘doodled words’ onto a piece of paper: ‘I hate you’, ‘sometimes I never want to see you again’, ‘you feel cold’, ‘you made no attempt to reconnect with me after the break’, ‘get the fuck out’, ‘time to shut the vulnerability the fuck away…….’. And in small writing, in a couple of the corners, where a part of me was dying to get out and make herself heard, I wrote: ‘I love you’, ‘I’m desperate to reconnect with you’, and ‘I want things to go back to how they were’. Then I sent you a couple of one-line emails; I asked whether it was okay to us the ‘f’ word in session. Implication – I want to use the ‘f’ word in session. Passive aggressive communication – I want to convey how f***ing mad I am with you right now.

When I came back to session the next day, I brought my doodles with me. I felt anxious about showing them to you, but the mood from the day before had definitely shifted. I talked about the traffic; it broke the ice. And then I said that I was really sorry about the emails I had sent you, and you just smiled and asked who sent them. I loved that question – somehow, it simultaneously told me that all was okay and that you understood that different parts of me were trying to communicate with you, and it also validated those voices and their feelings. And so I handed over the doodles straight away and explained that she sent the emails – the one who drew those words and wrote ‘I hate you’. Though I couldn’t really bear to look at you while you looked at them, I could tell that all was well – that you were warm, interested and perhaps a little amused; certainly not upset or cross. And I knew that I’d now definitely crossed over into more adult mode – which also meant completely vulnerable and trusting mode, and that the conflict, such as it was, was effectively over.


It feels simultaneously pathetic, extraordinary, wonderful, moving and frightening, that my negative and defensive response to a forty-six day therapy break lasted one day. ONE DAY. One day is a change – a massive change. And much as I hated you for not ‘doing something’ to actively help me to feel better when we saw each other again, and much as I resented the fact that I would need to do all the hard work of reconnection on my own – you must be lovingly laughing, just a little, at the fact that ‘new mother‘ was right. Because in fact, as you’d already told me, we were still very much connected even if I couldn’t feel it, and the hard graft (as I called it a dejected ‘tweet’) was over very quickly. I’m sure I will be back in that angry, hating and ‘stuck’ place again at some point in future – I should really find out what the answer to my question about the ‘f’ word is, just in case…..But it feels staggering that the second and third sessions back felt just like the wonderfully connected sessions before the break.

When I think back to previous therapy breaks and the days and days, and weeks and weeks it sometimes took to ‘recover’……what a change. In the past, I would have come in with the same resentful attitude in the first session after the break, and gone home with the same feeling that you had done nothing to help me reconnect. I would have felt misunderstood and unheard but I would have felt too polite or too worried or too angry to say anything. And so we would have gone on, session after session, with me feeling further and further away from you, and more and more upset at not being heard, and yet trying to ‘carry on regardless’ while numbing myself against the pain of doing so. Until at some point the hurt would have become unbearable and I would have reached emotional meltdown. I would have needed you to ‘rescue’ me (and our relationship); and through the process of repairing the rupture and seeking reassurance that we were still okay, I would have – eventually – come to feel connected to you again. Perhaps it was only in being able to really see the process of repair in action, and to see the threads being rebuilt (on my side, even if they were intact on yours), that I could really believe that they were holding us together.

There are so many differences now, but what underlies them all, is a lack of fear. When I keep that more ‘adult me’ in the driving seat, then all these things are true. I am not afraid of you, or of you hurting me. If you do hurt me I’m not afraid of what it means or of whether it will happen again. I’m not afraid that you will judge me or change how you think about me. I’m not afraid of you misunderstanding me, and if you do misunderstand me, I’m not afraid it means you don’t care or weren’t paying attention. I’m not afraid of how you will react to something I say or do, and I’m not afraid that I might do or say ‘the wrong thing’ or that I might hurt you or upset you in some way.

I love you but I’m no longer trying to play the guardian all the time – either of my heart or yours. I’m no longer holding back from saying certain things in case you ‘don’t respond well’ and I get hurt; or in case I offend you, upset you, or cause you pain. Instead, I think that if we trust each other we also know that we do not want to hurt each other. And if we hurt each other we can talk about it and things will not be irretrievably (or even moderately) broken. Nothing will have changed because of it, except for an opportunity having been gained and a memory having been created, of working things through and feeling closer at the end of it.

I trust you, and I no longer see that as the one-dimensional concept it always was to me in the past. I no longer think it is about discretion, and keeping a confidence, and the safety of knowledge and information in the hands of another. Now I trust you with me , and not just with ‘stuff about me’; and that’s such a radical departure from what that word has ever meant to me in the past, that I cannot conceive of applying it, in that form, to anyone else at the moment, though I know that that’s one of the eventual aims of our work.

Things have changed, and I see it in the little things now that we’re together again, as well as in the ‘big thing’ of the speed of recovery after the break. I see it in my willingness to share my hate-filled doodles; in my lack of hesitation in telling you if I don’t want to change direction or topic in session, or that I do; in my openness in telling you if you’ve misinterpreted something I’ve said. I see it in the way I tell you what I’ve been thinking or feeling not in two sessions’ time or over email the next day, but in the moment or in a few moments’ time. I see it in the way I haven’t come with a written list of things to talk about, in many many weeks; and if we meander far from where our conversation started, I don’t feel anxious, I just look for the deeper reason why we ended up where we did, because I’m sure there is a reason.

Not for the first time over the last few days, I’m sitting here thinking that you make me happy; our relationship makes me happy, and happiness is not a feeling that has been much a part of my life, for the last few years. I feel as though by looking deep within myself, with your help, I’ve seen beyond myself and truly met someone. Two someones. Thank you. And thank you for the things that have changed. I can see them more clearly, now that we’re together again.




Therapy break – Day 1 to Day 22

I am now five and a half weeks into a six and a half week therapy break; at the very start, when I was feeling unusually determined and enthusiastic about putting some ‘strategies’ in place (!), I decided to keep a Twitter diary of the break and tweet at least once a day using the hashtag #therapybreak. There are 46 days in this therapy break (including the day of my last session in July and the first session in September), and when I got to Day 22 I used Storify to create a record of the tweets from the first half of the break. The Story can be found here:

I hadn’t set out to tweet in this way during a therapy break before, and I found it helpful; for one thing, it meant I had to think a little on some days, to decide what to pick out for my daily tweet. This focused my mind on moments I was grateful for; on aspects which had been positive in an otherwise less positive day; and it helped me to think further about the difficult times, and to try and resolve to turn things around. The support I received in response to tweets when things were going less well was very encouraging and also made a difference – thank you so much to those who responded!

When I started the daily tweets it was also in the hope that I might find the result encouraging to look back on, particularly leading up to future breaks. I hope that will be the case; and more immediately, the tweets will certainly help me to ‘scrapbook’ my therapy break. Though there is so much I need to talk to my therapist about once we resume sessions, that my idealistic idea of us looking through it together during the first session back, may well fall by the wayside!

I will publish the link to my #therapybreak tweets from the second half of the break (Day 23 to Day 46) next week, when the break is over and I have resumed sessions….



Memory Monday – “Home”

my therapist is my home lifeinabind

I wrote this poem last August when I was abroad during my summer therapy break, and posted it with a very brief introduction, in September 2015. As I wrote in that introduction: I felt my therapist’s absence even more keenly due to the physical distance, and these words just came into my mind one day, as I thought of her. The concept of a house or a home as a metaphor for therapy arose quite early in my time with her, and it is a metaphor that has often appeared within my dream imagery as well”.

At this time, my therapist is the one who is abroad (rather than me), and once again I am feeling her absence more keenly due to the physical distance. And even more keenly still as she is the one who is ‘away’, and I am the one ‘left behind’. I think the feeling is exacerbated by the fact that around me adults are preparing to go back to work after being on leave; children are excited (or not!) to be going back to school; and those in therapy are, by and large, resuming sessions with their therapists. I feel fear and dread over the recommencement of the ‘old’ routine’ of work and school; the feeling of being trapped, and of living at a frenetic pace and feeling constantly on a knife edge. I am glad that my therapist is having what I hope will be a restful break with good friends; but over the last week or so the adult part of me that wants her to have this break, has been alternating with the parts of me that simply resent it. And though I wish it weren’t the case, right now my ‘better self’ has given way to a sulky sense of ‘enough already‘.

And so I wanted to re-post this poem both as a reminder to myself that I am not alone and will be ‘home’ soon (in a week’s time); and also as a reminder to all those who are about to resume therapy, that however scary and uncertain it may feel, particularly if this is your first summer break, you are about to find your ‘safe place’ again, and I’m thinking of you as you embark on another ‘therapy-year’, and all that it may bring!

[As an aside, it was only when I was looking through the photos on my phone a few days ago, and saw a picture of the front of my therapist’s house, with her blue door, that I suddenly realised that the door in the picture which I chose to use as the background to my poem, is blue as well. I can honestly say that that was not in my mind at the time, and it was not why I consciously chose the picture – though looking back on it now it’s almost impossible not to think that I was drawn to it at least partly because it reminded me of my therapist’s house….]




Why The Use Of Imagination in Psychotherapy Matters

This is a really thought provoking and important article by psychotherapist Joshua Miles, on the importance and power of imagination (and metaphor) in therapy. The article points out that “some people in therapy benefit more from working within the world of metaphor and imagination, than exploring what is more factual or ‘real’….. it can be in abstract or creative patterns of thinking, which can lead us down meaningful avenues of self-exploration and growth”. It took me a while to see this; in the earlier stages of my therapy I was dubious of using ‘non-factual’ aids as facilitators of internal change. However, the longer I have been in therapy the more vital imagination and metaphor have become, and, aside from the therapeutic relationship itself, I would say that for me they have been the biggest agents of change. As this article highlights, I think that the power of imagination and metaphor rests in their inherently personal nature and malleability. To quote: “Through imagination, we can add or remove meaning as necessary, and there are no wrong or right answers.”

I think this is an interesting and important post for any therapy client to read – for me, it is particularly key at this time as I am currently on a six week ‘therapy break’, and using imagination and metaphor will be crucial in helping me to deal with the ‘gap’. They will enable me to keep the memory of my therapist alive; to challenge and re-interpet any internal resistance and counter-productive feelings; and to think of creative ways to make the best use of this time, so that I can learn from it and have interesting ‘stories’ to tell my therapist when we resume!

I know that I will re-read this article a number of times over the coming weeks, and hope you will find it helpful too!

Joshua Miles BA, MSc

People enter into therapy for different reasons, whether to understand bereavement and loss, or to explore a recent spate of anxiety. In therapy there are many aspects of our lives, experiences and relationships which can be explored. Therapy emphasises the importance of exploring our minds, seeking truth or clarity and uncovering our past. This exploratory process takes place in the hope that we may unburden ourselves from a myriad of complex thoughts or feelings.

This is why imagination becomes so important in therapy, because it allows us to explore thoughts and experiences, which if shared in the outside world, may not be understood. Imagination enables us to view or interpret experiences with a variety of different lenses which we can alter, change or shift as our mind explores concepts further.

Why Imagination Matters

All of us hold the potential for imagination, creativity and reflective thought, and can benefit from thinking…

View original post 857 more words


The memory bank of dreams

I have only three memories of a close family member that I lost as a child, that I can be sure are my own memories and not recollections of photos I might have seen. One is a snapshot, nothing more than a moment, captured as if in a photograph; one is of a particular event; and one is a fragment of a dream – and so not really a memory at all – but at least I can be sure that it is mine.

We lived in neighbouring streets (this relative and I) and saw a great deal of each other over a number of years. But almost nothing remains of those experiences, save those three memories and some old photos. It seems bizarre, even given the passage of decades. It feels a little like science fiction – as though my memories must have somehow been wiped. It feels as though the memory gap needs some explanation – that this person was too significant for there to be hardly anything left.

The ‘snapshot’ is of them sitting at the head of the table at a family meal, possibly around Christmas time, wearing their wig after chemotherapy had taken all of their hair. The event was the time I brought a friend home from school and saw the look of horror on her face when she saw my relative’s skeletal looking frame – it was as if I was seeing the progression of their illness for the first time, through my friend’s eyes. As for the dream – it is the earliest one I can remember, perhaps even from pre-school years or no later than very early school years, and it was set in the gardens of the house we used to live in until I was five.


This is all I remember of the dream: my relative and I went through a side gate into the garden of the house where I used to live. At the bottom of the garden were some witches, stirring something in a large pot. It felt dangerous, and I knew we musn’t be seen. So we left, via the same side gate, though on the way back I remember that I was flying rather than walking, hovering in the air just over my companion’s head, so that we could both go out of the gate at the same time.

When I tell my therapist about my dreams, she always asks me what my associations are. With the passage of time (and subsequent familiarity with Macbeth!) the dream has become associated in my mind with the phrase ‘when shall we three meet again….’, but I couldn’t actually tell you how many witches were in my original dream, and I don’t know if that matters. I have a feeling I dreamed the dream again, when I was studying the play in senior school. As for the element of flying, this was a feature of the vast majority of my dreams growing up, and it was almost always used as a way of trying to escape when I was being chased. When my dreams of being chased started to become less frequent, so did my dreams of flying. I’ve experienced them again a couple of times in the last year or so, once again in the context of trying to get away from something.

I don’t know what the dream means – who the witches represent, or what the danger was that we were trying to get away from. But I’m glad I remember the dream, because it’s the only positive memory that I have of that family member, that isn’t tainted by illness or distress. Although the dream had its frightening aspects, what I remember most is a vague sense of comfort, togetherness, and protection. That my companion was trying to keep me safe, or that we were trying to keep each other safe. I don’t have any ‘real life’ memories of having their arms around me – and so that dream memory is the closest thing I have to a sense of being held by them.


Dreams are important, and as with events, perhaps we remember the most significant components of them; the parts that hold most meaning for us and that will serve us best in future, even if we don’t understand how. I don’t know how much I will remember of my therapy sessions, for example, in ten or twenty years’ time. I hope, a great deal – and this blog should help with that! But I am pretty confident that I will remember at least some of the dreams that I have had, that involve my therapist.

And so who knows, perhaps in time, the dream-memory of sitting down with my therapist at a breakfast table, simultaneously wondering how near it was appropriate to sit, whilst also glowing with a sense of wonderful closeness and companionship; may come to be an important part of how I remember her. It may turn out to be almost as much a source of comfort and connection as the memories of the time spent together in session. The dream may not recall a real event, but it was a product of real events and most importantly, real relationship, interwoven with my conscious and unconscious feelings.

I think the same is true of that earliest dream that I can remember, and perhaps the sense of ‘safety in togetherness’ in that dream, and the one of my therapist, is something that I need to remember. Not just as an antidote to the past, and the ‘danger’ and separation of death; but also as an anchor in the face of the ‘danger’ and separation of a longer-than-usual upcoming therapy break in a few weeks’ time. I will need all the resources I can muster to fend off self-sabotage and keep a sense of connection alive. But the beauty of a bank of ‘dream memories’, is that it can not only be drawn upon, but it can continue to grow – in presence, but also, wonderfully, in absence.


Recovery – the battle inside my head

One of the hardest parts of my recovery from BPD is enduring the battleground in my head. The constant, ceaseless, unremitting war of words, its assault deafening my thinking space, and its fallout poisoning the air around my heart. I suspect this is true of many with a mental health condition, irrespective of their diagnosis.

It is exhausting to be fighting with myself; or, as sometimes happens, to feel like an observer of a fight between parts of myself. To be under attack and have to constantly try and defend, push back, stave off, but also rationalise, encourage, remember. To try to summon up words both to retaliate against the offensive and to build up and strengthen the defense.

Sometimes I tell myself – at least there is a battleground. At least it is a fight rather than a walkover. Because it wouldn’t be recovery without the battle. In the past, the emotions I was feeling and the words that I was hearing in my head, would have felt like the only possibility and the only reality. They would have been experienced as fact, without question. I wouldn’t have fought an attack from my own thoughts, I would have been at their mercy. Worse, I wouldn’t even have realised I was an occupied country; that I had been both ransacked and overthrown. The battleground means that resistance is alive – on both sides. Resistance to the self-sabotaging parts of myself and the negative thoughts and emotions; but also resistance to any positive external or internal influence that tries to show me that I have choices, and that all is not as it seems. The battleground means that I’m not just accepting what my inner thoughts are telling me; that I’m not just absorbing every emotion that wants to carry me away. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve exchanged the emotional exhaustion of the rollercoaster of intense and changeable feelings, for the mental exhaustion of being aware of the rollercoaster and trying to persuade myself not to get on it.


The war is fought on a number of fronts, but there are some areas where it is particularly well entrenched. My marriage is a key one, and involves trying to manage being triggered by seeing my husband as a parental figure, and trying to resist reacting to him as I would have reacted to my mother. There is also the war with helplessness, hopelessness, desperation, self-criticism and ultimately with the desire to die. I remind myself that I have been here before, that I will see beyond this. But my biggest ally in these times tends to be not words, but waiting; hanging on for dear life until I can once again see that life is dear, or at least liveable with.

And then there’s one of the biggest, most difficult warzones – encompassing any and all ground in some way or other related to therapy and my therapist. It encompasses the fight against black and white thinking (or splitting); the struggle to maintain object constancy and continue to feel connected to her; the difficulty of continuing to trust and reminding myself of everything she has done for me, even at times of uncertainty or fear. It encompasses the fight against the desire to please and the need to do things ‘the right way’; the attempts to sit with emotions rather than act impulsively or react negatively; and the struggle to remember that a boundary can be loving rather than rejecting.


I walk around in an ordinary way, doing ordinary things; but I am the walking wounded, only half alive because so much energy is being drained away, dealing with what is happening inside.

I meet every attack with a riposte; every pessimistic comment with a different reading; every negative interpretation with a reminder of a past positive event or word; every urge to self-destruct with a suggestion for an alternative course of action. Every barb must be dealt with; every challenge, challenged-back – if not, the words settle in, start to sink below the surface, and start to infect other parts of me.

Ten days into my most recent therapy break, and my defenses were still holding, in large part due to the wonderful sense of connectedness I had felt in the last few sessions before the break. I still felt connected and cared for, and was managing to maintain a greater than usual degree of self-awareness and self-control, including around my thoughts. But it was getting harder, almost by the hour. The ‘attacking’ voices were getting louder, gaining more ‘credence’ the longer I didn’t hear from my therapist by email (though for a large part of the break she was out of email contact, which I knew). The thoughts suggested to me that I wasn’t a priority, or that she didn’t care very much, or that it was okay to feel resentful and ignored and less connected. Instead, I reminded myself of all the things she had said or done that showed her caring; of the fact that there were plenty of factors contributing to how available she was over email, and that she would reply when she had the chance.

Early in the therapy break I had felt somewhat stoic – I knew what needed to be done, and I almost felt brave and confident. But this is a war of attrition, and it wears you down. Eventually, ten days into the break, my stoicism, courage, and whatever respect for self this battle represented, were almost gone. I ended up no longer fighting, but pleading, though I’m not sure with who. “Please don’t do this, please. Please don’t undermine all those wonderful feelings, and that sense of connection. Please don’t take them away from me. Please don’t ruin how well things are going this time.” I think the attacker sensed at least temporary defeat when I did indeed receive an email from my therapist, which gave me the encouragement I needed. But even then, there was the constant taunting from that voice, whoever it belonged to: “Even if you do manage to push me away now, I can make sure that you bring me into that very first post-break therapy session with you. You might remain connected during the break, but you’re weaker, and I can change how the break ends…..”


Sometimes, though, the battle eases. Sometimes there is a ceasefire. Sometimes it goes underground and then re-surfaces later in an explosion of injury-causing debris. Sometimes, as now, there is a strange sort of watching and waiting. I have this image of two copies of me standing apart, facing each other, almost as if they are trying to out-stare each other. One part wants to pull closer to my therapist and regain that pre-break connection; one part wants to push away. No one is speaking. No one is doing. But this isn’t stalemate – while inaction continues, the one who wants to push away is winning. She doesn’t have to fight a war of words this time; she knows the other part is lost. She wants to find her way back to a previous state of being, but doesn’t know how. She is lost in no-man’s land – an easy target, but while lost, not really a threat.


But who knows? This situation may yet unfold in a surprising way. Because sometimes there is peace – the lion and the lamb do lie down together. Many months ago I had a dream in which my double was trying to kill me. Armed with a bayonet we both moved around in the dark, me the hunted, she the hunter. All of a sudden we realised we were face to face, but instead of stabbing each other through and through, we dropped to the floor and fell asleep, entwined together in an embrace. Sometimes my warring parts embrace, and enjoy each other for a while. And then…….?

This video of ‘Elastic Heart’ by Sia has been on my mind a great deal recently. This time last year, her video for ‘Chandelier’ had a huge impact on me, and now ‘Elastic Heart’, the second in this trilogy of videos with a similar theme (the third being the video for ‘Big Girls Cry’), seems to visually capture a number of issues I’m struggling with. The video was controversial, and if you haven’t seen it but have suffered trauma or abuse as a child, I would urge you to read about it first (for example, here) before choosing whether to watch. Sia’s reply to criticism was that she did not wish to trigger or cause upset, but sought only to create emotional content through the interaction of two warring ‘Sia self states’, represented by the two actors/dancers, a man and a girl. The video’s director commented that the cage in which the two characters play out their dance, is a bit like a skull.

As I have been thinking about this post and about the video, the battle within my head and the dance within the cage have seemed like helpful representations of each other. But as with any artistic creation, the more we look the more we find and what we find depends on our point of view. I can see ways in which the video represents a number of different aspects of my struggles in therapy – the subject of another post, perhaps. But in the meantime, what got me thinking, was this. The analogy of the cage as a skull, doesn’t quite work for me. It is almost too literal – and it doesn’t explain how the child is able to slip in and out of the cage. The cage is a boundary – but thinking of it as a physical boundary is too restrictive. When we start to think of all the other boundaries that trouble us – including those of time and personhood – a whole new range of interpretations and analogies may start to open up…..