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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Summer therapy break – it’s almost over…..

I’m nervous about going back to therapy tomorrow. You would have thought after five years and numerous therapy breaks, that I wouldn’t be wracked with anticipation, that I’d know what to expect. And, I guess, the problem is that I do. I know returns are difficult – the last week leading up to a return has always been particularly challenging, and this time has been no exception. My #therapybreak tweets from the final third of my five-week summer break, show that unfolding:

https://wakelet.com/wake/1f7fe065-a5ae-4110-9ae8-8a021506bc9a

One thing that has changed over the years has been the speed of adjusting after the return, of reconnecting, and of working through the vestiges of resentment and anger that inevitably bubble up, however accepting I’ve consciously felt of my therapist’s need for a break. But I haven’t yet found a way of avoiding the clouding of vision, and turmoil of emotion that makes an appearance in the lead-up to the ‘reunion’, however things have gone in the preceding weeks. I think that part of the reason, at least, is an inability to completely let go of expectations.

Without wanting to or planning to, or even realising that it is happening, as the end of the break approaches my head starts to fill with imagined conversations and imagined scenarios of how the first session back could go. Those scenarios involve both the ways in which I’d like, and not like it to go, along with my possible responses. But either way, positive or negative, there are fears and expectations involved. I would like to be able to approach the end of the break and the first session back, with complete openness and curiosity, with excitement and gratitude for what has been and what is to come. But I find it so hard to release those thoughts of how I’d like her to be, what I’d like her to say, how I’d like the atmosphere to be. I know that I’m restricting both of our freedom, imprisoning us both, in a dynamic enforced by my expectations. I want to work on that – but I don’t yet know how.

 

 

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Therapy break update and thoughts – not over yet!

While most of those I know in therapy are already back in session, I have another [insert own adjective] couple of weeks to go until I see my therapist again! I’m a little over two-thirds of the way through, and have put together my #therapybreak tweets for the middle third of this long summer break:

https://wakelet.com/wake/867ff092-2c48-4478-bfad-76fe4f5fca62

The first third can be found here and the final installment will be published on 23 September, the day before my return to session.

My thoughts are with those who have recently returned to session – going back involves such a mixture of states and emotions, and whatever happens in those first couple of weeks back, it is rarely straightforward. But I am grateful to a lovely Twitter friend and our chat earlier tonight, for the opportunity to remember and reflect on something very important about the return. She is seeing her therapist again soon, after a gap of a couple of months, and wondered if her therapist would remember what she was like, and how to work with her. And in replying to my friend, it was as if the last five years of working with my therapist were all present at once, and I grasped in one moment how I would have answered that question and felt in that situation a few years ago, versus how I feel now.

I said that yes, her therapist would remember what she was like and how to work with her. But at the same time, her therapist wouldn’t know how the last couple of months had been, until she was told, and working together changes all the time, so it is never completely the same. Her therapist will care and know her as before, but she will also be human and will not ‘get things’ straight away, and may not remember everything my friend might expect her to. But if that happens, it says nothing about how her therapist feels about her, or her desire to understand what’s going on. I said to my friend the things that I wish I could have said to myself – but I hadn’t realised them yet –  a few years ago, in the early days of my therapy.

I hope my answer was helpful to my friend, but her asking the question was also a blessing for me. In replying and in reminding myself of what I knew, I felt a great sense of security and of knowing and being known. I remembered one or two sessions over the last few months when it was clear my therapist did not quite understand how things were for me, but it also evident that she cared deeply about understanding, and was trying hard to do so. I remember how powerful it was to realise that I’d reached the point where the fact that she didn’t understand, did not upset me; and the fact that she was committed to trying, was infinitely more important and moving. I smiled inside at the thought that she is human; I was grateful for it. Even though I could probably only recall one or two examples, the felt memories of her ‘human-ness’ permeated me, and I felt hugged by her presence. I no longer need to be ‘intuited’ -one of the changes that therapy has wrought. I just need someone to bring themselves as they are, to be there, to care, and to try. How much simpler; how much more precious. What a gift…..


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Summer therapy break 2018 – one third of the way through

Somehow I managed to completely miss the fact that Storify disappeared in May, and along with it all my previous compilations of #therapybreak tweets! However, I’ve discovered Wakelet, an excellent alternative, and this is installment 1 of 3, of my #therapybreak tweets from my current break, which started on 18 August and will end on 24 September:

https://wakelet.com/wake/13b05313-b87e-4724-ae16-1dcdfab1b6cf

As usual, it’s been lovely sharing stories of therapy breaks on Twitter, with others who are also in the midst of their own breaks. It’s also been lovely seeing the steady presence, #therapybreak after #therapybreak, of those whose stories I do not know, but who ‘like’ tweets, whether or not they comment, and who by those actions show their support and let me know they are thinking of me.

Some aspects of therapy breaks have become a little easier  – for example, I no longer have to fight an internal battle to maintain a clear perspective on who my therapist is and on our relationship. However, life has got harder, and so despite feeling close to my therapist, I still spent much of every day of the first ten days or so of the break, fighting despair and the feeling that I did not want to be alive.

I’m glad that as has happened in the past, my #therapybreak tweets have captured the beautiful, grateful, moments that have struck me, in amongst the more difficult feelings, as in this way they function as an act of self-care, as well as a means of connection.

A couple of others are also using the hashtag #therapybreak to share their stories – it would be lovely to build up a collection of experiences in this way!

 


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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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#therapybreak story in tweets

If you read my last post ‘This therapy break is not what I’d hoped for or expected ‘, the Twitter ‘story’ of my #therapybreak tweets will come as no surprise, and neither will its sub-heading – ‘Not quite how I imagined it….‘ . If you want to see how it all unfolded (and one might say, unraveled!), you can find it here:

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/therapybreak-christmas-2017

Thank you to all those who supported me during the break, despite, in many cases, going through painful and tumultuous times of their own. Thank you to those who gently pointed out what a hard time I was giving myself; to those who let me know they were thinking of me; to those who ‘checked in on me’ when sometimes I went quiet; to those who sent me encouraging words to let me know things would get better; and to all those who simply let their presence be known. 


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This therapy break is not what I’d hoped for or expected

*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL FEELINGS*

Part I

In my head I have the image of a young girl stamping her feet, refusing to accept the unacceptable, yet clearly irrefutable. The young girl is me, and the fact is that my therapist is not my mother. An ‘act of God’, an accident of birth, whatever you want to call it – the truth. I imagine the young girl taking those stamping feet with her to the first therapy session after the Christmas break – but I know that courage often forsakes her at the door. She is more likely to leave silence in her wake, a younger version inarticulate and unable to stay present. Or perhaps she will hand over to sarcasm and a calculated detachment – apparent cooperation over a thinly veiled resistance. The truth is unacceptable to all of them – they feel little or no control over the pain it causes.

***

I should have known better – even as I was saying the words in my last session before the therapy break, I felt that it must surely be foolish to have such confidence, to make such bold assertions. “I don’t doubt my ability to stay connected”, I said. I have always thought that you are more vulnerable when you believe yourself immune, so why would I say such a thing? I suppose I did not think I was immune, so much as stronger, more ‘mature’ (in therapy terms). But still, it was a ridiculous thing to say. Particularly as I admitted to being fearful of the depression and difficult feelings that the Christmas break in particular, brings up for me. If I’d stopped to think I would have remembered that feelings of connection do not sit well alongside deep depression, and that ‘survival’ often means disconnection. But you never quite remember the nature of the darkness, until you’re trying to stay afloat in it again.

***

There are some strange coincidences when it comes to the way in which mine and my therapist’s lives and histories, touch upon each other. Coincidences of place, or time, or music, or words. At the start of the break I attended an event which will be a part of our family’s life for some time, knowing that at one point in the past, it may well have been part of her family’s life too. Going to and from the event, I walked past and through places that had and still have significance for her family, that are part of their day to day lives. I wondered whether I would have been able to enjoy thinking of her and feeling connected by these places and events, if I were only thinking of her. As it is, the completely familiar but painfully recurrent wound of that unacceptable, irrefutable truth, was too present to allow the joy and connection to flourish or be felt.

***

I changed the wallpaper on my phone to a picture of swans near my therapist’s house. Swans have been significant for us since a time, a year or so ago, when I left session feeling incredibly distressed, and felt drawn to drive to some nearby train tracks which had been part of my suicidal ideation in the past. However, I happened to catch sight of the swans, and went over to take a photo. There were ten to twenty of them, and I stayed watching for a while, listening to the inchoate sounds they were making, which seemed to echo how I was feeling inside. I felt calm companionship, and after twenty minutes or so, I drove straight home.

There were three beautiful white swans in the photo I put on my phone. I felt a little restless and uncomfortable because metaphor and imagery is important to me, and I wasn’t sure who the three swans represented. I should have preferred it if there were two, as the interpretation then, would be obvious – and comforting – enough. Could they represent the ‘Oedipal triangle’ of myself, my therapy-mother and a one-time therapy-father figure? The possibility that they might represent my therapist and her two daughters was not one I wanted to think about, so I pushed it to one side, trying to focus instead on the beauty and clarity of the image, even if there was no simple meaning that could be attached to it.

It was a few days later, when, quite literally weak with exhaustion and pain from that ‘recurrent wound’, that I noticed another irrefutable truth, hiding (but only to my mind that refused to see it) in plain sight. The brown and white object on the water, to the left of the three beautiful white swans was not, as I had originally thought, a piece of rubbish floating on the water. It was a fourth swan, younger and so an ‘ugly duckling’ still, with its head and neck immersed in the river. The picture, all of a sudden, made perfect sense; the interpretation was clear. I knew my place in it, and that of my therapist and her daughters. The only mystery was why the picture took so long to reveal itself to me; but then, my ability to leave unobserved the readily observable, is one that I am all too familiar with.

***

Suffering may seem too strong a word for such a thing, but I came to think of it as that. Daily, unremitting, suffering that I would have done anything to be able to cut out of me. Depression usually leaves my ability to sleep, intact – but not in this case. I couldn’t sleep because of the tears and because my mind was desperate to find an answer. I tried to examine the problem from every angle, proposing hypotheses and trying to imagine how I would feel in different situations. If my therapist had no children, would I feel this way? If she still had daughters, but had said we could keep in touch after the end of therapy, would I feel this way? Which was the most significant factor, eventual loss of the physical relationship, or the fact that I am not her daughter? But the two are inter-related and I was too distressed; and my hypothetical scenarios testing my hypotheses got me nowhere near discovering how to deal with the unacceptable and irrefutable truth.

The wound and the questions were all-consuming – so much so that I didn’t know whether that meant that this was the one big issue I needed to deal with in therapy next, or that this was the one big stumbling block that would consume and stand in the way of my therapy and any future work. The thought that it might be the latter, was frightening. I had no idea how to get past this impasse; the wound had been recurring for years. But one thing I was convinced of was that the answer did not lie in my therapist’s usual encouragement to focus on what I do have, rather than on what I don’t. I know what I have, and I’m very, very grateful for it. But this wound won’t be healed by gratitude, and it won’t be covered over. It needs to be felt, and worked through, and dealt with – though I’m quite sure that at the moment, neither of us knows how.

Part II

Suffering took me to a place in which I felt unafraid of death. All my life it has scared me – occasionally I’ve felt sheer existential terror in trying to imagine my own complete non-existence in a future stretching out for millions of years beyond me. We all imagine our death from our own vantage point – even when thinking of our own non-existence, the terror of the concept lies hidden from view because our consciousness is still in the picture – it is creating the picture. Skirting the edges (which is all we can do, given that we are conscious) of the true concept of a universe in which we are completely and utterly absent in every way – is one of the most terrifying things I have felt. And yet I felt – really felt – that I had made peace with the idea. That death would be a welcome release, despite the losses it would bring. I felt that the idea of non-existence did not scare me anymore – it was natural, it will come to us all.

***

It had been a long time since I had had internal conversations with the various ‘parts of myself’, but as I lay in bed unable to sleep and wanting to die, the image of a child part of me, tugging on my sleeve, came into my mind. For the first time, she called me ‘mama’. I am aware that part of the process of therapy will involve learning to be my own ‘good enough mother’ to my internal parts, with my internal therapy mother there to guide me. Until now, I’ve had the sense that my various internal parts see me more as an older sister tasked with ‘mothering’ her siblings, and doing a rather ineffectual job, whereas they think of my internalised therapy-mother as their parent. And so to have my inner child call me ‘mama’, was a shock and a surprise.

“Are we going to die?” she asked. “I don’t know”, I said, “do you want to?” . She paused, and then said “I think, if we are all together, then it is okay”. I looked over to a teenage part of me and she shook her head in assent, through her tears. Only the part of me I think of as ‘the flirty one’ (generally the ‘character’ where I locate myself as a ‘sexual being’) seemed to be unsure, and to feel anger and resistance. Perhaps that is unsurprising, given that she is the part of me most connected to my physical body.

It was both a comforting and a dangerous image. I felt as though my inner parts were ‘giving me permission’ to die – that my internal pictures and conversations were leading to integration and resolution, and that that resolution was in harmony with the loss of my fear of death. I felt as though I was on a definite path; and though I was aware this felt comforting, at the same time, on a deeper level, the feeling was frightening.

***

The next morning asI was driving along, I found myself planning, in my mind, the order of service for my funeral. For many years, I’d wanted to include the song ‘I hope you dance’ by Lee Ann Womack. Around a year ago I came across Caccini’s Ave Maria (the version for violin and orchestra) and I added that to the ‘playlist’, and more recently I decided on a choral piece as well. I wanted the service to be a progression, to form a creative whole that hung together and told a story. But how, I thought, can one progress from country music, to orchestral, to modern choral, in a way that was beautiful and coherent? It would take quite some creativity to pull that off – I hoped I was up to the task.

Though it occurs to me now that playing ‘I hope you dance’ would be the height of irony, or perhaps hypocrisy, under the circumstances, containing as it does, the line ‘When you get the choice to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance’.

***

By that afternoon, the suffering and the reconciliation to death had been replaced by anger, resentment, and envy. It felt as though the one internal part who had ‘broken ranks’, had decided to step in and protect. I felt both extremely vehement in my resentment, and simultaneously distant, constantly observing and interpreting my thoughts and reactions.

I noted the increase in my self-hatred and what felt like hatred for others; the increase in self-destructive impulses; the temptation to less appropriate behaviours; the flirtatious or sexual edge to some of my online interactions. Although these felt like familiar ‘coping mechanisms’ from my past, I hadn’t previously associated this part of me with a protector who wanted to live, and who may have guarded against suicidality.  And I had never previously put envy alongside sexuality (I am clearly lacking in my knowledge of the history and theory of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis!).

Pictures and words from an imagined first session back, started to play over in my mind, constantly revisiting and building the anger and the envy. I imagined my first words to my therapist being “well that was an effing disaster”; I imagined her expression changing, defensiveness kicking in. I imagined my angry tirade. I imagined it over and over until I actually better understood some of the reasons why this feels like the worst therapy break in two years.

Part III

Over the summer, my therapist and I agreed to stop emailing between sessions. This was followed shortly after by a major rupture, which it took me a long time to process, and one of the consequences was that adjusting to the cessation of email was much harder than it might otherwise have been. In order to adjust, I needed to feel absolutely secure in my attachment; but the rupture meant that I felt in constant need of reassurance that our relationship was still intact. Reassurance which I could no longer, of course, obtain by email. It was a vicious circle that was hard to break out of.

***

In line with the cessation of email between sessions, this is my first therapy break with no contact with my therapist. A couple of weeks before the break, I happened to raise the subject of the end of therapy, and all of a sudden my pre-conceptions and fantasies about ‘post-therapy possibilities’ were shattered. Over the course of a very painful four or five sessions, it became clear that the ‘half-way house’ I had imagined, between actively being in therapy, and having a friendship, did not in fact exist.

I had imagined a world of semi-regular email exchanges, of the kind we had had during therapy breaks in the past. Specifically, of the kind we had had during last year’s Christmas break during which I had managed to stay feeling connected and secure throughout, and we had exchanged a couple of lovely messages. I had imagined exchanges where I gave her updates on what was happening in my life, and she responded with encouragement, and occasionally with one or two details of her own life (such as a poem, book, or piece of music she thought I might find interesting or enjoyable). I knew that this would not be initiated by her, and I knew that she would still maintain a therapeutic ‘distance’ – but nevertheless I had imagined a genuine exchange, that would be enjoyable for both of us.

***

It became clear that those fantasies were just that – fantasies. And so it seemed I had to face (though I still haven’t had the courage to truly face it) the unacceptable – that there would be no mutually enjoyable and genuine exchange, and that I might never hear from my therapist again, once therapy is over.

This is my first break without email contact – having just found out there will be no email contact after the end of therapy. It is a break laden with associations and reminders of family – the family I am part of, and the family I long to be part of – just at the time when I have come face to face with the starkest, most chasm-like distinction between being a biological daughter and being a therapy daughter. At some point, the latter relationship continues to exist only internally, with few or no new physical reminders.

Is it any wonder then, with all of that in mind, that I was consumed by envy of her and her family, and by anger (at her and at myself) for not realising just what a mammoth (and likely unrealistic) task I would be embarking on?

***

So much, then, for my bold claim over my ability to stay connected during this break. I should have known better – though I still would not have thought I would ‘regress’ to this extent. Having said that, I know my therapist hasn’t abandoned me, and I know that she thinks of me and cares about me. It is not a perceived lack of those things, that fuels my anger and resentment. It is the not-yet-dealt-with, not-yet-processed, unacceptable and irrefutable truths that a no-contact break compounds by being its own stark illustration and reminder of those truths. I am not her daughter; I will never be her daughter. Of course I know the difference between a biological daughter and a therapy daughter – but it breaks my heart, now more than ever.

***

I watched a film that turned a key, unlocked emotions, raised questions. Questions and emotions that made it feel as though I could choose love over envy and anger; that I could continue to self-actualise and bring my future to pass, by choosing to live through painful moments and accept them as un-sullying adjuncts to joyful moments. It felt a little like a religious experience, but then the next morning things felt flat. At least the envy and the anger are diluted now – there is more adult there, than there was before. But the strength of the connection I want to feel, I know I can feel, and that is there, eludes me.

***

I want my therapist to wrap me in her arms when I see her – metaphorically, as I know she cannot, physically. And I need to talk about the suffering and try and figure out what it means, where it comes from, how to deal with it. I have to deal with it – it is still the dominant issue. I either feel it and am crushed by it, or I defend against it with emotions that block relationship and connection. Instead, I have to be able to tolerate it, and not just that – I have to be able to have positive experiences that are not utterly marred by it. Ideally, the irrefutable and unacceptable will eventually become acceptable, and cause me less pain. I need that – for my well-being and for some peace, as well as for the sake of my therapy. But in the meantime, I think I need that young girl to turn up to her first session after the break still stamping her feet, metaphorically, if not literally, and give expression to everything that’s bothering her. I think she has to say some things that are hard to hear – harder for her, than for her therapist. And she has to believe that they will both survive the experience intact.

I hope I can do it. “I don’t doubt my ability to stay connected” is true, in this sense – I know that I don’t have to spend the first session back ‘testing the water’, rebuilding connection, checking things are still okay. I am confident they are. So perhaps I just have to use that as my anchor, and as the base from which to jump into new territory in my therapy. My therapist has often encouraged me to bring my ‘trickier parts’ into session – perhaps it’s time to try…..


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Easter therapy break – Part 3

As I have done over the last couple of therapy breaks, I used daily tweets as a way of ‘journaling’ and coping over the Easter break. I find it helpful as a way of ‘counting down the days’ and of recording both difficult moments and times of gratitude. I have also found it valuable to be able to look back on my experience during previous breaks. Creating a scrapbook of my tweets has been therapeutic in itself, as well as providing me with a treasure trove of memories. I put together the tweets from my Easter break using Storify, and you can see them here!

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/easter-therapy-break-day-1-to-day-8