Childhood Feelings Triggered Hard

Today was a painful day. Recently in therapy we have been talking about my attachment pain and how it relates to my childhood. We have talked to an extent about my Mum and how she related to me when I was little – how little, vulnerable, alone, misunderstood and invalidated she made me feel. In therapy, I hadn’t been able to fully access those feelings from childhood; it’s felt very much like I was telling a story – with little to no emotion. Today, however, those emotions were triggered and finally able to come out in the real world.

I apologise in advance for the incoherence of this post. I just needed to rant, and to get it all out.


There were two issues. The first one was as follows:

My T gave me her teddy bear to look after and use for comfort, as a transitional object, whilst we work on my early relational trauma. I have been feeling young inside, needy and pained, and carrying around the teddy like a child with a comfort toy has felt incredibly supportive. The problem, however, is that I live with my Mum. I didn’t want to tell her about the teddy because I knew she would react judgmentally. However, I spoke to Sister no. 1 yesterday in the car about it, so she was aware. I had asked her to please not tell Mum and she had said that she would not. Nevertheless, this is what happened.

Today we were in the kitchen and I was studying whilst cuddling the teddy. Sis no. 1 came downstairs and saw me with the teddy and starting questioning why I was still holding him, despite the fact that she was aware of why. I tried to avoid her question but she kept probing me, and Mum was getting involved.
“Why ARE you still holding that teddy?” Mum started to question. “How old are you, seriously?”.
Sis continued, provoking me, joining Mum, asking me where I had actually gotten the teddy from.
“Is he even yours? Where DID you get him from?” and not letting up when I tried to avoid all the questions she was throwing at me. I glanced at Sis with telling eyes; it was obvious that I was uncomfortable and wanting her to stop, especially because she had promised me that she wouldn’t tell Mum just yesterday. Instead she just kept pressing me and wouldn’t let go.

Eventually, she turned to Mum and said in a really judgmental voice,
“It’s her THERAPIST’S teddy!” and then to me “Isn’t ittttt?!”, in a sarcastic and mocking tone.

Mum asked me why my T had given me her teddy and I told her that it was as a transitional object, for when I am struggling with my emotions. I was as vague as possible; I didn’t tell her about the work we are doing in therapy, for obvious reasons of course. However, she proceeded to go on a full rant about expressing her opinion of me. She was very happy to let me know how weird she thought the situation was, how it doesn’t sound like ‘good therapeutic practice’, and how it makes her feel genuinely concerned because I am an adult now and still act like such a child. She did her usual “It’s just not normal, it’s really not, not normal at all” and continued with the old “Come on, how old are you, I mean seriously” spiel. My sister happily joined in, clearly getting off on the tease. It felt hurtful and incredibly cruel, especially after I had asked her not to mention the teddy situation to our Mum.

I was getting increasingly upset and tried to defend myself and my T as I felt really defensive and attacked by everything my Mum was saying. But she just continued on and on, slamming into me about how abnormal it is to behave in the way that I behave, and how she can’t help but judge and worry about it, because it “doesn’t sit comfortably” with her at all to see me walking about the house with a teddy like a lost little child. (The irony is that she never stopped to question why I feel like this ‘lost little child’ in the first place. HINT: Something to do with the way she treated me when I was ‘that child’.)

As the shame grew I started to feel myself shrinking inwards; all the beliefs about what a freak I am reiterated x10000 by the person who’s meant to love me the most but instead makes me feel more bad about myself than anyone else ever could. After trying so fucking hard in therapy for so long to try and reverse these judgements I have about myself and validate them instead, the way that my Mum was speaking to me unraveled any progress I had made in that area. She continued to back up how the shame I feel is very much valid, that I should be embarrassed for feeling so young and needy inside and for expressing it in the way that I do. She was supporting all the core beliefs I have about myself being a shamefully abnormal freak who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world and who is faulty and broken instead.

Essentially, she was telling me that there is something wrong with me. There is something wrong with me and I am not acceptable to her because of that. I am bad, I need to be different, and it is wrong to feel the way that I feel. I am fundamentally flawed.

By the time I managed to calm down a few hours later, situation 2 was evolving. This is what happened:

Sister no. 2 (who is my half-sister, we share the same Dad) was having her own crisis at school. The story wasn’t important; what was important was how distressed she was off the back of it. She was panicking and crying down the phone to me, her anxiety was sky-rocketing, and she was beating herself up with guilt and sounding really self-punitive and judgmental. She felt so guilty about the situation and a mistake she had made, and although she knew on one hand what she needed to do to fix it, the anxiety over every single option felt excruciating – and she found herself totally trapped. On top of this, the frustration at her ADHD, and the consequences of her ADHD, were too overwhelming to be able to regulate on her own.

I was proud of her for calling me, and as her sister, I was there to help. I stayed on the phone to her whilst she cried and explained the situation, and validated how she was feeling as much as I could. I reminded her gently to breathe because she was struggling with the tears, and made my voice sound soothing to try and calm her down. I did everything I would want someone to do for me if I was in a crisis. I spoke to her like how my T speaks to me when I am in that state. I stayed calm and collected, I validated her and was compassionate and caring, and I also tried to help her get through the situation by proposing solutions that I could help her achieve. I reiterated that no one was angry with her, that her guilt made sense to me because I know how much it means to her to not upset or displease people, but that I absolutely was not angry in the slightest, and that the only thing that was important to me is that we work out how to help her navigate the situation and feel calm again.

I told her that no matter what the outcome of the situation, no one was going to be mad with her, and how I could hear how distressed she was and that despite that I knew she was trying her best to get through. With regards to the mistake she had made, I highlighted that the most important thing was the thought (“it’s the thought that counts”), and that she is one of the most thoughtful people I know. She might have made a mistake, but she is only human. Plus, she was having a bad ADHD day, and that was not her fault. I validated how frustrating it must be to struggle with ADHD in the way that she does, and for people not to understand that she doesn’t behave in the ways that she does on purpose.

I was very mindful of the fact that yes, the situation and the mistake was slightly frustrating in terms of practicalities, but when I imagined how much more upsetting it must be for her – being the one who can’t control her ADHD and anxiety and having to live with it every day and the guilt and shame she has on top of it – the mistake itself felt unimportant. I felt really upset for her because of how her distressed she was and how much she was struggling with her emotions, and so even though the situation was not ideal, that was absolutely not the priority. The priority was being there for my 13 year old sister who struggles immensely with emotions and who beats herself up chronically for feeling and being the way that she is. I wanted to be someone who could show her unconditional love, assure her that she was safe to feel the way she was feeling with me, and that I was not going to react.

I wanted to show her that no matter what was going on for her, I was going to be able to hold that space with her, and to support her through the distress and be alongside her in the process of calming down. She tried to regulate herself for a bit and deal with the situation in the ways we had discussed, then called me back to update me on the situation and how she was doing. Eventually, she managed to get to a place where she was calmer and had stopped crying, stopped panicking, and felt more in control of herself. As it turned out, once she had calmed down, she managed to state her needs and actually resolve the situation without my presence. I was really proud of her, especially as I know how much anxiety she was feeling. So, the last time she called, I told her how proud of her I was, validated her again and told her I loved her and would always love her, no matter what mistakes she made. The most important thing was showing her that unconditional care, which is something we have both needed and gone without at pivotal points in our lives. She really appreciated it, and the situation was pretty much resolved.

However, whilst I was having this conversation over the phone with Sis no. 2, Mum and Sis no. 1 were chattering behind me in the background with disdain. I was struggling to multitask but could make out what they were saying, because my Mum continued to hiss at me to get off the phone and to stop pandering to Sis no. 2 and ‘enabling her dependence’. It is not exactly the easiest thing trying to help my little sister through a crisis, let alone doing so when behind me I can hear my Mum and Sis no. 1 going on about how ridiculous and dramatic the whole situation is – and how ‘badly’ I am dealing with it.

I wanted to scream at them to shut the fuck up as I was trying to be there for Sis no. 2 and all I could focus on was their stupid judgments and over involvement about a situation they knew very little about in my ear. (I mean seriously why the fuck was my Mum involving herself with this anyway, Sis no. 2 is not even her daughter!). As soon as Sis no 2 got off the phone to me, I turned around to Mum and Sis no. 1 and asked them what on earth they were thinking. I told them that they had no idea what was going on on the other side of the phone (i.e. for Sis no. 2) and tried to explain how difficult it is for her having to live with ADHD and anxiety and feeling so misunderstood by everyone around her who responds with such little compassion. I told them that comments like theirs (e.g. “She needs to be more self reliant and stop making everything into such drama”) are exactly what fuel the shame, guilt and self judgments she then puts onto herself.

Sis no. 1 said that Sis no. 2 was being ridiculous and needs to grow up. My Mum agreed, saying that I make the situation worse by pandering to her and being ‘too nice’ when really what she needs is some harsh love. I tried to back myself up, describing the level of distress Sis no. 2 was experiencing, and letting them know that I was trying to balance being there for her with finding a solution – and that actually, ultimately, she was the one who had fought through her anxiety on this occasion to try and problem solve, despite the distress she was in.

They were not hearing anything I had to say, and continued to go on about how I was putting my own problems onto my little sister, how it’s not actually helpful for me to speak to her on the phone and ‘make her’ more dependent on me, and how I was being more dramatic than was needed and that we just need to chill the fuck out and stop being so dramatic over the smallest situation. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the situation; it was about the emotions and distress Sis no. 2 was feeling. I was trying so hard to explain that when someone is in that level of distress, especially a CHILD, and a CHILD with anxiety AND ADHD at that, expecting them to be able to get themselves out of a crisis is really flawed logic. It is the kind of expectation that makes children believe that there is something wrong with them for struggling with their emotions, and makes them internalise how they are feeling, stop asking for help and instead try and shove down or deal with their emotions in ways that are not healthy. Ever since Sis no 2. has been encouraged to communicate with us when she’s struggling, the self-destructive tendencies and crises have gone down, and she’s been much better at getting through these sorts of situations with support. Withdrawing that would be a disaster and set her back months or years.

In these sorts of situations, the professionals have always encouraged the type of communication that I use with Sis no. 2 – compassionate, solution-focused but validating and soothing communication. Listening, attending, and trying to work together to navigate distressing situations. Being there for her, supporting her so that she is better equipped to support herself. When she is in that state, there is no way she is able to calm herself down, and showing ‘tough love’, hanging up the phone, or trying to force her to be more self reliant when her distress is that high, only ever makes things worse. This includes making her feel like she is bad and should be told off or shamed for feeling the way that she does, which is essentially what they were convinced of.

When my Mum and Sis no. 1 were still not getting anything I was saying, they started saying to one another, in front of me,
“Oh my god, she’s not listening, she just doesn’t get it, there is no point in even trying to convince her, she’s putting her own stuff onto the situation” acting like I was pretty much delusional and making me question my sanity simply because they were the majority and shared the same opinion! When I tried to explain how their way of relating to a child is how I was related to as child (i.e. “stop being ridiculous, buck up, get your act together, stop being such a baby, stop being so over sensitive” etc) and how badly that served me, and how what I’ve learnt in therapy and treatment is that the more effective way of relating to a child is by using the type of approach I always try and use in communication nowadays (i.e. DBT, validation, acceptance, change, etc), they just started accusing me again on putting my own shit onto Sis no. 2 yet again.

Instead of wondering if maybe, actually, my experiences of emotional distress have helped facilitate an increased understanding of what is and is not helpful in emotionally weighted situations, they stayed put in their conviction that their way (i.e. the invalidating, cold-hearted, non-compassionate way) is the right way. And that my sensitivity was making me respond in the wrong way, instead of in a way that is actually more effective for Sis no. 2 who is very much like me and does need to be listened to and validated in order to then be able to problem solve. #acceptanceTHENchange

By this point I was in complete tears, in my room, in such a state, screaming at my Mum who refused to drop her line of argument, really digging into me and actually making me question my sanity AS USUAL. She kept saying that because both Sis no. 1 and her agreed, it was 2 against 1 and that shows that I don’t know what I am talking about and should really take on board what they were saying. I find it so fucking triggering when people manipulate me into questioning my own sanity and will not see anything but their own line of argument. It is so fucked up.

Eventually I totally lost it with my Mum, screaming at her that, “THE ONLY REASON I AM THE WAY I AM IS BECAUSE YOU TREATED ME EXACTLY HOW YOU WANT ME TO TREAT SIS NO. 2 NOW. DO YOU NOT SEE THAT IF I TREAT HER IN THE WAY YOU WANT ME TO – INVALIDATE, SHAME, MINIMISE, JUDGE ETC – I AM JUST SETTING HER UP TO FEEL AS TERRIBLY ABOUT HERSELF AND HER EMOTIONS AS YOU HAVE MADE ME FEEL ABOUT MINE ALL MY LIFE?”

I was on a rampage now. I continued,
“I AM NOT LIKE THIS FOR NOTHING. I AM LIKE THIS – AND IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ME TO VALIDATE AND BE ATTENTIVE TO SIS NO. 2 IN THE WAY THAT I AM – BECAUSE OF HOW THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT SOMETHING I HAD FROM YOU WHEN I NEEDED IT WHEN I WAS LITTLE, AND BECAUSE I KNOW HOW DAMAGING THAT IS. AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH THAT APPRAOCH, AND WHO HAS BEEN FUCKED UP BECAUSE OF IT, I WILL NEVER PUT ANY OF THAT ONTO ANYONE EVER, ESPECIALLY NOT MY LITTLE SISTER.

I screamed at my Mum to get out, and wailed and wailed, before calling my Dad and my Step-mum and trying to speak down the phone to them for reassurance. I was crying so hard down the phone that they could barely make out what I was saying. But they told me that everything I did was right and that out of everyone in the whole family, I relate to Sis no. 2 the most, I communicate with her the most effectively, and she responds the best with me. So fuck you, Mum and sis no. 1, fuck you.

Attachment Pain is Back

Things have been up and down over the last few weeks, but one thing is for sure. Over the past few days, attachment pain related to my therapist has sprung back in an overwhelming way and I find myself stuck in that place of rejection and hopelessness once again.

I thought that maybe I was starting to get somewhere with this attachment stuff. But unfortunately my attachment pain hasn’t really got much better. I think it possibly comes and goes in waves more than it used to, and the periods of it taking over my life are probably less frequent than they were; my therapist and I certainly have less numerous and catastrophic ruptures. However, I’m currently in a period of high attachment pain and I cannot say that the distress of it is any less than it has been before.

Sometimes when I’m not in as much pain I forget just how unbearable it feels. But now that I am IN it, it feels like this pain is all that has ever existed and all that ever will.

I love DBT. It has saved my life in many ways. But regardless, when it comes to these attachment difficulties, DBT skills never seem to be enough. I hate it when they tell me that this pain will eventually extinguish because I see no evidence of that. Instead it just seems to peak and peak and peak….. then keeps me stranded, alone, in the most excruciating emotional pain anyone could experience.

Sometimes DBT can feel a bit “surface” and like a mostly “top down” approach. But my belief is that I need to target this attachment stuff from the “bottom up”. My belief is that without the right sort of trauma work I won’t ever be able to fully heal from my attachment difficulties because they are a result of relational/ complex trauma that is pretty much ingrained within my cells. I am in a more trauma focused therapy at the moment although we still use DBT as an underlying framework. I am advised and encouraged to practice the skills as an addition to the trauma work, and my T constantly reiterates the importance of skills such as self-soothing and self-validating whilst we are doing this work.

However it still feels impossible and almost counter intuitive to soothe myself when the only one I want that from right now is my therapist. I am the last person I want any care from (I despise myself, I disgust myself, I want to punish myself, so why would care from myself feel nurturing or even possible!?). I understand that this is where I need to be (and is where the healthy part of me wants to be!) but how to get there is another story.

My therapist tells me the actions have to come first (“act as if”) and the feelings will follow eventually (albeit from the outside in). Like I said, I have little evidence of that as yet, but maybe as I continue with the trauma therapy things will start to shift from the inside out.

My BPD Presentation

Last weekend I had the honour of speaking for 25 minutes in front of 250 people about BPD at a mental health conference. Although the months leading up to it were filled with panic and dread and I genuinely was not sure if I’d be able to go through with it, it actually went 100x better than I could ever have hoped for.

I have decided to share my presentation here (in a written as opposed to audio format to maintain anonymity). I trust that my readers won’t plagiarise or copyright the content, but I do want to put this out there as it is a rare achievement I felt proud of! (Some of the slides have come out in a squished format, but I think they’re clear enough).


BPD, ME AND ANXIETY

Hello everyone and thank you for introducing me. I am here to talk to you about what it’s like for me living with Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety. I just want to say before I start that this is the first time I have done anything like this so if I appear really frikkin anxious, it’s because I am really frikkin anxious! Thank you for bearing with me and I hope you get something out of my talk today!

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So what exactly is Borderline Personality Disorder? BPD is basically a disorder of emotional dysregulation; people with BPD struggle to regulate their moods, feelings, behaviours, thoughts and relationships with others. However, it is pretty much impossible to sum up BPD in a single sentence, so I will be going into much more detail later in the talk. Just to give you some background information first, BPD affects about 1% of people and is more prevalent amongst women than men. In order to be diagnosed you have to meet criteria for at least 5 out of these 9 symptoms on this slides, and be at least 18 years old. However, because symptoms often start much younger and can appear to overlap with other disorders, many people might not be correctly diagnosed or treated for years. I was personally treated from the age of 12 to 19 for depression, anxiety, self harm, eating disorders, and later substance abuse. No one really understood what was “wrong” with me, and when I continued not to get better I was told that I was simply “treatment resistant”. Finally, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with BPD. For me this was a huge relief because I finally had a diagnosis that I felt captured so much of what I had been through. It was also really important in helping me finally get access to the specialised support I needed, as well as understanding more about why I am the way I am.

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So what actually causes BPD? As with other mental illnesses, there is no simple answer, but it is understood that both nature and nurture have a role to play. Naturally, some children are born more sensitive than others and find it harder to deal with their emotions. If parents are able to meet their kids’ emotional needs, a child is more likely to develop a healthy emotional skill set. However, if a child is exposed to an environment that is unable to meet their needs, they might never learn these coping skills. People who develop BPD tend to be born as naturally sensitive kids into an environment that isn’t catered to nurture this sensitivity. People with BPD often grew up in environments that they experienced as invalidating. Invalidation happens when someone’s feelings or thoughts are ignored, ridiculed, dismissed, or judged by those around them. For example, teasing a child for crying, punishing a child for expressing anger, or telling a child that their feelings are silly or wrong or untrue. This invalidation can be especially damaging to children who are already sensitive, and when it happens a lot and over a long time, it can start having lasting impacts. The child might start to internalise the message that their thoughts and feelings are wrong, unimportant or unworthy of attention. They must try to shut their feelings down, judge themselves, and invalidate their experiences just like everyone around them has. As a result, they might never learn how to trust and manage their emotions appropriately – which leads to frequent emotional dysregulation. And it is this emotional dysregulation that underlies many of the difficulties seen in BPD.

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I’m now going to talk a bit about how BPD manifests. I personally find it helpful to split the symptoms into the surface ones vs the more hidden ones. This is because BPD is often associated with certain behaviours, such as self-harm, suicide and impulsivity, in the media, health care settings and in society. Society focuses on the external because it is easier to make sense of the things you can see, especially with something complex like mental illness. However because of this, these surface symptoms often become the face of BPD – and are what create a lot of the negative stigma that can be hard to shift. This is especially sad as people with BPD often feel massively misunderstood, and I admit it feels near impossible to explain what living with BPD is really like on the inside. My hope is that through talking to you about some of the more hidden aspects, I can make the invisible more visible – and help others understand.
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First I’m going to briefly address self harm though as it is one of the behavioural symptoms most frequently associated with BPD. Self harm can take a number of forms which I have outlined on this slide. Although self harm might be hard to understand from the outside, for people who struggle with it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Most people who self harm do so because they have no other coping mechanisms available to them. Maybe they were never taught how to deal with their emotions healthily or maybe their pain is so overwhelming that they see no other option. There are a lot of reasons why people self harm, but ultimately it is a dysfunctional coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming emotional pain or distress.

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Personally, I have self harmed in an attempt to make things I’ve been experiencing inside into something more visible and tangible – in an attempt to make sense of a pain that often cannot be put into words. I have self harmed as a form of punishment. I have self harmed to try and purge myself of feelings that have been too unbearable to contain. I have self harmed to release feelings of anger that were not safe to express externally, and I have self harmed to suppress or appease intrusive thoughts I might be experiencing. There have been times when I have self harmed in an attempt to make myself feel alive, when I have been feeling particularly dissociated – which is something I will cover a little more later. Unfortunately for a long time self harm was a big crutch for me. When I didn’t know how else to manage, self harm seemed like the only way I could temporarily alleviate the pain. Now, I am more in control of these urges than I used to be.

However, not actively self harming does not mean I am cured of BPD. In fact, not using self harm as a crutch is challenging in itself – not just because there is no release for the pain in the way there used to be, but because without the physical ‘proof’ of this pain, people often start to take you less seriously. For example, a few years ago I had an assessment with a personality disorder team in which I expressed my desperate need for help. However, I was told by the psychiatrist that because I had not self-harmed for a whole month, I must be doing really well and he did not think their team could help me. I am pretty sure that if I had gone in with fresh wounds and stitches all over my body, I would have been taken more seriously, and given the support I needed. Instead, his response reiterated to me that using my words to express how I felt inside was not good enough. It backed up all the beliefs I have about my feelings not being important to anyone or worthy of support. A few days later, inevitably, I ended up relapsing; a communication of my pain, both to myself and the outside world.

I just want to highlight that for me, at the time, none of this was a conscious process. I have never planned the process of self harming in a reasonable state of mind with the awareness of what I am doing. In the actual moment, the urge to self harm is so high that it doesn’t feel like a choice, it feels like an instinct and a compulsion and the only way to survive. Fortunately, through my treatment, these behaviours have become more of a choice for me. Now, the parts of BPD that I struggle with the most remain invisible to the outside world. I am going to try and address these difficulties now.

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Like I said earlier, BPD is essentially a disorder of emotional regulation. This means that we can find it hard to control how we react emotionally to situations and can swing from one extreme state to another in very short periods of time. We can be managing fine one moment, but then in a total crisis the next, swinging multiple times in a single day. For some people with BPD these swings might be obvious from the outside, but for others we might try and hide them from the world, so you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of how controlled by our emotions we feel. It is not uncommon for me to experience feelings of both joy and suicidality at different times on the same day, just hours apart – and for no one around me to have any idea. As you can imagine, this is pretty discombobulating. BPD is pretty much a never-ending emotional roller coaster that you can never really get off and never know what’s coming next.

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However, it is not just our moods but also our relationships and perception of others that can be pretty unstable. People with BPD are very all or nothing in the way that we think. We think in black and white terms, and struggle to live in the grey. This means that we often see the world, including people, as one extreme or another. It is hard to integrate both the good and the bad into one at the same time and to hold all sides of a person or situation in mind. This means that small shifts in a relationship can feel very distressing and throw the entire relationship off balance. We might fluctuate from loving someone and wanting to be around them 24/7 one minute, to hating them and never wanting to see them again the next. For me, these changes are usually triggered by feelings related to rejection. For example, if someone close to me shows me a gesture of love, I might see them as the most important person in the world, who I love with all my heart and could never live without. However, if the next moment the same person did something that left me feeling rejected, hurt or misunderstood, I might switch to feeling like they are the most terrible person on the entire planet who has wronged me so badly that I never want to see them again.

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Of course, it is natural to an extent to be scared of rejection and abandonment, but with BPD this really takes on another quality. When these feelings are triggered, it can spiral us into a state of paranoia and anger, mistrust and distress, and even suicidality. Sometimes the feeling of rejection might in no way fit the reality of the situation, but even the possibility that someone might be leaving in some way can send us into a spin. These feelings can even triggered by everyday experiences that from the outside may seem menial. For example, someone cancelling an arrangement last minute or not replying to a text message can set off a complete meltdown. For someone without these difficulties, they might be able to rationalise that their friend is stressed out, forgetful, or sick, or accidentally messed up their dates – and look at the situation as a whole before moving on from it. For someone like me however, I might start to believe that my friend has ulterior motives, that she is trying to provoke a reaction in me, that she clearly doesn’t care about me, that I mean nothing to her, that I am boring, annoying, a handful, that she is choosing her boyfriend over me, that I am unworthy of having friends and that no one loves me anyway, that I am worthless and that I might as well kill myself. You can see how this irrational thinking quickly spirals out of control, and how overwhelming even small interactions or situations can become.
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The constant rejection sensitivity that we experience invariably leads to huge paranoia and hypervigilance within relationships. I often question what is real in relationships and what is in my head, as I know I have a tendency to read into situations too much. I might read over the same email fifty times convinced that my lecturer is having a dig at me. I might continually check someone’s ‘last online’ status to try and work out if they are avoiding me. I might seek constant reassurance from those close to me that I have not done something wrong convinced that they are angry with me. We look for clues everywhere and often create evidence that doesn’t even exist. Very often, the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not can become overwhelming. It takes a lot of mental energy trying to filter out what is what in every single interaction, and sometimes it gets a bit too much. This is also something that absolutely feeds my anxiety.

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Sometimes when things get too much, I might start to shut down. This is not a conscious decision or process, but an automatic coping mechanism called dissociation. Dissociation is basically a state of disconnection from reality that many people with BPD struggle with. It is the brain’s way of saying ‘Okay, we are outside of what we can tolerate right now, reality is too much to manage, so we are going to check out for a while, cya’. It is hard to describe what dissociation feels like, but it’s sort of like being drugged with sedatives. It can either make you feel disconnected from yourself, or from the world around you, or both. It can make me feel like I am a robot or a ghost going through the motions, not really living, or like I am in a dream. It can feel like there is a fog shrouding everything around me, or an invisible shield blocking me off from the world. Sometimes things around me become trippy and hard to make sense of. It can make my senses go out of focus, especially my vision which often becomes blurry and distorted. It can make my body feel like it’s not my own or like my brain and body aren’t in sync. Sometimes time or distance feel shrunken or stretched, and it might even become hard to recognise myself or the people or places around me. The intensity of this feelings varies a lot, but are usually worse during times of greater stress or if triggered by distressing situations from the past.

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Somewhat related to this state of disconnection, is a feeling of emptiness that many people with BPD struggle with. This feeling is not just a typical emptiness, but the type of emptiness that goes on for ever and that nothing seems to ever fill. This emptiness can make me feel like I don’t exist or am nothing but an empty shell. It can also feel like I lack substance and even an identity. People with BPD often struggle with holding onto a clear idea of who we really are. I find it hard to know what I like or what my interests are, and I struggle to make decisions because I rarely know what it is I want. A lot of the time I look to others to confirm things about myself, because I find it hard to trust my own mind. As a result of this fragmented sense of self, I often feel like a fake person. I end up moulding myself, changing and adapting like a chameleon to the people and situations around me. Sometimes it feels like I am a different person in every situation, with no string of ‘me’ connecting all of those experiences together.

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With BPD, it can be hard to hold onto anything other than what feels real right now. When you are in one state of mind, it is almost impossible to consider that any other states of mind exist. When your mood drops, you can’t remember ever being happy. It’s seriously impossible, you can’t even imagine what happiness feels like. Even if you know in the back of your mind that it will pass, at that moment it feels like it will never end, like you’re stuck in that hopeless pit of darkness forever. And then the irony is that during the easier moments, when I feel okay again, I question my disorder entirely and convince myself I am ‘cured’. I stand here right now appearing perfectly functional (well, I hope). But if you had seen me yesterday, struggling to get out bed at 2 in the afternoon, agonising over a relationship difficulty with a friend, sinking into a cycle of self-destructive thoughts, you would have seen a very different version of me to who you see right now.

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I also think it’s important to point out that despite the internal chaos of BPD, many people with BPD are actually very good at hiding their distress from those around them. These individuals are often able to hold down careers, studies and other commitments, despite how much they are struggling inside. This might seem like a positive thing because it means that we are able to build lives for ourselves, and make it appear as though we are functioning. However it can also be hugely challenging, as how we feel on the inside and how we present on the outside can become hugely mismatched. Or, people might see one side of us, and assume that is how we always are, which can make it hard to seek support during the times things are not going so smoothly. For me BPD often feels like a real paradox. On the one hand I try desperately to keep up a façade of functionality to the world which I am terrified will shatter. On the other hand, I really do need people in my life to know when I am struggling and to support me within that. It’s often hard to strike a balance between the two though and I usually end up presenting as totally competent, or at the other extreme, as a massive emotional wreck.

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I think that one of the scariest parts of having BPD is the speed and unpredictability of the shifts we experience, never knowing what to expect from one moment to the next, or being aware of my reactions but still unable to change them. The most frustrating thing for me is when I know on one level that I am reacting to a situation or twisting reality in a way that makes no sense. I can often feel myself slipping into paranoia, but I can’t seem to stop it. I can rationalise and intellectualise and know that my brain is lying to me, but that still does little to stop the emotional take over. Usually having this insight makes it even harder as I just end up overthinking everything to another level, which definitely exacerbates the paranoia! It’s exhausting trying to change the way you think and feel when the organ responsible for thinking and feeling is not functioning very well in the first place! Sometimes BPD basically just feels like your brain has totally turned against you.

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So like I said at the start, I also struggle with anxiety, and often there are big overlaps between my anxiety and BPD. Although not everyone with BPD has an anxiety disorder, about 75% do. This makes sense, because having BPD is like having a faulty smoke detector inside of you. The fire alarm goes off not just when the building is burning, but every time even a harmful gust of wind brushes past. The slightest touch can trigger a huge emotional response, and this also applies to situations that might induce fear. People with BPD tend to live in a state of high alert; the world doesn’t really feel like a safe place but instead is something to watch out for. We therefore have heightened stress responses, we have learnt to look out for the next thing to go wrong, and so experience even neutral stimuli as threatening. Studies have even shown that people with BPD have much higher levels of cortisol in our blood than the average person, and this is the case for people with anxiety disorders as well.

Also, because of the hypervigilance that we experience, and because of how much we struggle in relationships, anxiety in social situations is a frequent occurrence for people with BPD. The interpersonal difficulties I described earlier on, such as rapidly changing perceptions of others, constantly reading into interactions with those around us, easily become paranoid about others’ intentions, and often finding ourselves out of touch with reality, are all experiences that might contribute to and overlap with anxiety. This might not always be experienced physically for people, but for me I do get a lot of physical anxiety. For example, a situation in which I have felt rejected by someone close to me might spiral me into a state of such high physical anxiety that I have a full blown panic attack. Usually I experience a lot of anxiety off the back on interpersonal conflicts and this might last hours or even days or until the conflict has been resolved and my system can finally relax again.

I think ultimately whilst I do see my BPD and anxiety as two separate difficulties, they are absolutely connected and definitely overlap and contribute to one another. My BPD certainly makes my anxiety a lot worse.

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To finish off, there are a few myths about BPD that I would like to address. Firstly, people with BPD are often thought of as manipulative. The word manipulative has such negative connotations and puts people with BPD in a really bad light, making us look like we intend to cause harm. The fact is that we do what we can to survive out of desperation and sometimes our intentions can be misunderstood and perceived as manipulative – for example behaviours such as self-harm. The thing is that manipulation implies a conscious and intentional process that needs planning, but people with BPD are far too impulsive to think things through when our emotions are so high.

People with BPD are also often accused of being attention seeking. The thing is that needing attention is a basic human need that most people with BPD were denied of growing up. Unfortunately many of us therefore learnt to get attention or get our needs met in dysfunctional ways, for example through behaviours that might seem attention-seeking, instead of words. Again, these gestures highlight a feeling of desperation more than anything else. And the fact that people with BPD often feel the need to go to such lengths to be seen or taken seriously, including hurting ourselves, is an indication of how much emotional pain we are in. The other thing to realise is that whilst many people with BPD do crave attention in certain contexts, in other situations attention is actually something we massively shy away from.

I have also read sources that say people with BPD lack empathy. I think that this might be because when we are in the middle of a crisis we can get so caught up in our own pain that it becomes impossible to think about the other person’s side. However, more generally, the truth is that the many people I know with BPD, are some of the most empathetic and intuitive people I know. We are not only sensitive when it comes to ourselves, but we are sensitive towards others as well. In fact, a lot of people with BPD empathise so strongly with others that it becomes painful in itself!

Finally people with BPD don’t choose to be this way. There is absolutely nothing glamourous about having BPD; it is no ‘Girl, Interrupted’ movie. If it were a choice there would be none of us around, because having BPD feels pretty much like a living hell. The thing that I want to leave you with is this: We are just doing the best that we can to survive in a world that we don’t always feel equipped to be a part of. And although we can be challenging at times, we also have huge hearts and a lot of love to give. Thank you.

Finding My Inner Culinary Artist

Cooking has been something I have struggled to do for multiple reasons. It involves multi-tasking, keeping track of the time, spending money on oneself, associating with food, effort, sharing a (possibly failed) creation and can be time consuming – all things I can struggle with in some way. It is a form of self-care and self-care is not something that comes easily to me, especially when feeling underserving, self-hating or just plain lacking motivation.

But recently, I have been purposefully cooking meals for my family or friends as a way to get creative with DBT skills. I have surprised myself by how tasty and successful each of the meals have been, and the feedback from others has been really motivating, especially because I’ve always been mocked for my inability to cook anything beyond pasta in the past! It has been a way of creating structure for myself, of being productive when going out the house might feel too much, of influencing other more positive emotions during times I am feeling flat, or low, or sad. 

They say that the feeling doesn’t come first – that the actions do – and I see how that holds true here. Feeling proud of myself is a rare victory, but over the last two weeks my culinary creations have made that a reality a number of times. Every time I’ve cooked, I’ve felt more positive at the end of the process than I did at the start. Something I used to find anxiety-provoking and stressful, I’m starting to find relaxing, rewarding and enjoyable.

And the cooking process involves so many DBT skills, especially when you add booming music to the atmosphere like I have been doing (we recently invested in a new and very exciting sound system), that my DBT diary card has many more ticks than usual!

It involves self-soothing through pretty much all senses, such as smell, sight, taste and touch (and the sound of the accompanying music). It involves being fully present and mindful of the cooking process – no phone, Internet or other distracting gadgets. It involves accumulating positives and building mastery as in ABC. It involves the ACCEPTS skills – activities that are positively distracting, contributing (by sharing meals with loved ones, which is a treat for them too) and sensations (as described above). It involves the E in PLEASE skills, by nourishing oneself by eating healthy and balanced food. 

I’ve now successfully made dishes ranging from cauliflower cheese, mushroom pepper and zaatar rissoto, to ratatouille, morrocon spiced fish and tzatziki, and veggie shepherd’s pie. 

So for anyone who needs a helpful distraction, mastery-building, sensory and creative skill, I suggest turning on some music, pouring yourself a glass of wine (if it’s effective!), and getting out a new recipe to try your hands at! 😊

No More Hugs

My therapist told me she’d been thinking about me a lot this week and that she had come to a realisation after our last 2 sessions (1 & 2). She told me it had become clear to her that when she hugs me it actually gets in the way of our therapeutic work. As I sat there in tears, feeling about 4 years old, she proceeded to explain why. 

She said that every time she hugs me she is placating my need to be soothed, reassured and comforted by a mother figure. But that every time she does that, it blocks the reality of my situation that I try so hard to avoid. That reality is the strength and pain of my need as it manifests in the first place. That reality is the reality than needs to be faced.

Essentially what she was saying is that every time she hugs me, it is like she is putting a plaster over the core issue, making it better temporarily but actually hindering me in the long run. What she is referring to is the way I feel when I do not have access to the comfort I crave from her so deeply. It is those intense feelings of loneliness, neediness, sadness and pain, and the experience of not having that distress soothed as a young child, that are the core issues. Those feelings and experiences are ones that need to be sat with, processed and worked with. In her view, every time she hugs me, she is inadvertently getting me further from doing just that.

She thinks that if we stop hugging, it will expose me to all the painful feelings of emptiness and yearning that we need me to experience as a part of my process. I can then bring those experiences to therapy and that is what we can work with. Ultimately this might help me understand where these feelings stem from, develop more self-compassion and better equip me to heal certain parts of myself from the inside out. My stability won’t have to be so dependent on the way she interacts with me. And in time, she hopes, as I heal, my desperate need for her hugs and holding will lose their ‘life or death’ power. 

I understand what she is saying completely. I appreciate her acknowledging and apologising for how hard this must be for me. But, I am devastated nonetheless. I don’t know how to make peace with this change and the possibility that she may never hug me again. 

Pregnancy, Babies and Breastfeeding Fantasies

This posts feels like a risk to publish but….

It is 3:20am and I cannot sleep because I am obsessing about pregnancy and babies. This has been going on for a couple of days now and I am unsure what it is about. My thoughts have been taken over by fantasies about being pregnant, giving birth, being a new mother, breastfeeding, and variations on the theme. 

This obsession has infiltrated into my dreams as well. I have been having nightmares about being a new mother desperate but unable to connect with my infant in some way. Last night I woke up 5 times from the same dream in which I was unable to get my dream baby to suckle despite my best efforts. Every time I fell back to sleep I failed her yet again. We just could not attune in the way I was desperate to.

There are a million reasons why it is not an option right now for me to have a baby and it is not something I am considering even slightly. But for some reason I am experiencing a fair amount of pain in relation to these fantasies. I have been watching related videos, reading forums and thinking about newborn babies non-stop. I feel empty and like something mighty is missing inside of me. The desire to have a baby I can hold and feed and soothe, someone who is mine and who is my entire world, is overwhelming.

This new feeling inside of me is screaming and it’s scary. I have always known I want to be a mother (way in the future!), but I have never been so consumed by these urges as I am right now. The thought of carrying a living being inside of me, or being able to breastfeed a newborn baby, fills me with a craving I cannot describe. 

I am remembering when I was a child and I used to pretend to breastfeed my teddies; soothe them and tell them it was all going to be okay. It’s almost as though I am entering that fantasy world again.

The desire to have that sort of connection is taking me over entirely. Perhaps it is something about yearning for that level of intimacy and unconditional love with another being. Or maybe there’s genuinely just something wrong with my hormones! I’ve never quite felt like this before and it’s confusingly shameful and scary. 

And it’s not just emotional and mental but a real visceral experience as well, especially the dreams. I’m scared to go to sleep. I wonder what it all means.

The Battle of Insatiable Neediness Vs. the Shame of Having That Need

My therapist and I managed to patch things up in my last session, after a pretty serious rupture a couple of days before. Towards the end of the session, I sought some final reassurance from her. I needed to make doubly sure before I left that things were going to work out okay in our relationship and in continuing my treatment.

“So you’re not leaving me then?” I asked, eyes wide and doe-eyed, voice high-pitched and timid like a child, “and things are going to go back to normal between us?”
“Lovey, what have I told you?”
“I know, but…” I pleaded, “…I need you to say it again.”
She breathed out, loud and slowly. Lovingly. “So long as our work together is effective, I am not planning on going anywhere.” She smiled, a gentle smile.

She had that look on her face. The look of compassion and love and curiosity and sadness. The look that says “I am here. I care about you. I see your pain.”

I could breathe a little more freely again.

Usually after these ruptures I need a hug. On one hand I think it’s to confirm that things are okay between us. I need the reassurance. On the only hand, it’s for the comfort. When I’m in that pit of sadness, a hug from my therapist feels like a little spark of hope and light within the dark. When she hugs me it breathes life into me. It makes me feel whole for a moment. She is also the only person I feel safe hugging me like that; the only person I really have to hug me at all. It means the world to feel safe and held for five seconds every week.

An inner tug of war was bubbling inside of me.
“I need a cuddle. It hurts so bad. I can’t leave without a hug. It’s only all better if she gives you a hug. Tell her you need a hug. Quick, you can’t leave without a hug!”
And the other half of me, screaming the opposite. “Don’t do it, don’t you dare. You don’t deserve a hug. What if she says no? It’s not worth the risk. Stop being such a fucking child! She doesn’t want to hug you, anyway. LEAVE”

The urge was too strong to resist. The power of the need to be held was greater than the power of the shame that was holding me back from asking. Two impossibly infinite forces. And yet, only one possible outcome.

I took the plunge. “Please can I have a cuddle?”
I think I said it in my Little’s voice again. And I could not for the life of me look her in the eye.
She touched my arm, affectionately. “What would the function of that be right now, lovey?”
“I just… I just need a hug”.
“You know I’m happy to give you hugs. But I think you are seeking reassurance. And I think we need to come back to this next session. What is the function of getting a hug from me, right now, do you think?”

My cheeks were flushing and I could feel the shame erupting from within me. The shame. The cataclysmic shame. And so I started getting angry, although I doubt she knew it. It was my usual HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME FEEL SHAME response, typical of this dynamic.

“What’s going on for you right now?” she asked, “what feelings are you noticing.”
“I just NEED you to HUG ME.” I was getting antsy, and my Little was silently raging.
“What feeling are you noticing, lovey?”
“I’m just so fucking embarrassed”, I said, trying to hold back the tears. I cry when I’m angry. I cry when I feel ashamed.

And oh, the SHAME. The shame for asking. The shame for needing. The shame for admitting that need. The shame the shame the shame. The shame for being. There are no words to describe that shame. I wished the ground could swallow me up and make me disappear off the face of the Earth.

She stroked me arm; a gesture of compromise, I suppose. I shrugged her off of me.
“Don’t”, I hissed, “I don’t feel in control when it’s like that.”
It wasn’t fair that she could touch me on HER terms, yet wouldn’t hug me on MINE. I felt more uncomfortable and confused that way than if she hadn’t touched me at all.
“Okay honey. I won’t touch you. We’ll talk about this next week. This is all giving us information; this is valuable stuff. Look after yourself, and I’ll see you in a few days.”

I couldn’t look at her. I left in a sulk. I love her so much. But I hated her in that moment too. I had exposed myself, raw and vulnerable, in asking for that hug. Just a hug. And I even begged. Just for a fucking hug. And she still declined.

My Little doesn’t know the difference between whether a hug is for reassurance or comfort or what, and neither does it care. But my Little knows that feeling of rejection well. That feeling doesn’t need discerning. It is the one feeling I have tried to avoid all my life. That hurt. That shame. That sting.

So I left, defeated and helpless, regressed and broken once again. And as I left, I collapsed onto the stairs in tears trying desperately not to let the progress we had made in that session unravel before me in an instant. And whilst I could rationalise what was happening within me, and whilst I knew on one hand why my therapist did what she did, I couldn’t stop the punitive voices that pelted my brain like a rifle opening fire. All that anger, that rejection, every morsel of negative affect of the last 3 minutes was redirected straight onto myself.
“Well what did you expect? You got what you deserved. You shouldn’t have bloody asked and I told you not to but you didn’t listen. You are weak, so needy, so fucking greedy it disgusts me. You are an embarrassment. You are flawed. And you are entirely unworthy of love.”

Another Rupture with My Therapist

I went in and she immediately asked for my Diary Card, which is what she does only when she is annoyed with me, instead of asking outright how I am. I gave it to her; she looked over it, and asked how I wanted to spend the session. I told her I wanted to apologise for breaking my commitment to her on Friday (a behaviour that I had promised I would stop doing) and texting on Saturday about it (even though I had good intentions in simply recommitting to her as I was struggling to not continue giving in). 

I over-apologised and took the blame and full responsibility for the situation. I showed that I felt regretful and understanding and grateful to her. I didn’t let any of my anger or hurt or confusion spill out about the situation that led up to this, which is too long and complex to go into now. I put my own hurt aside because I was desperate to resolve the conflict and knew that getting emotional about it would only perpetuate the rupture. 

But it didn’t work. She told me that, quite frankly, she was annoyed with me. She said that I continuously push her boundaries and that something within our dynamic isn’t helpful. And that there is a clear pattern of me setting up interactions in which I end up being or feeling “punished” by her as a consequence – as though that’s a position I subconsciously recreate for myself. 

I tried to explain to her that it isn’t personal – it isn’t about HER specifically – and that my attachment issues follow me with every single therapist I see. “I warned you about this”, I reminded her. It is how I am in relation to all therapists I have, no matter what they do or don’t do, no matter what their approach or ways of interacting with me are. She said that she believes she has not been boundaried enough with me and that she keeps giving in to this complex dynamic between us in a way that isn’t helpful to either of us; that I suck her in and she keeps extending herself; but that ultimately it sets her up to fail and only adds to the pain that I already experience and recreates past relational difficulties.

Out of nowhere, she told me that one solution available to us is that I see another therapist. I froze in absolute shock. After building up my trust with her over two years and starting to finally believe that maybe she could be the first therapist to not leave me, give up on me and hand me on to someone else, here she was announcing the prospect of me seeing someone other than her. 

How could she claim that this was one of her solutions? Me transferring to another therapist would be the total opposite of a solution. It would be her admitting that there is no solution – I am beyond help – and passing me over to yet another clinician to try and have a go at dealing with such an impossible and hopeless case. Me.

I erupted. I broke. I totally lost it. The tears, the anger, the hurt. I could not speak for the shock. 

And then, the shame. The shame because how dare I be shocked that my therapist is considering leaving me. Of course she is considering leaving me; that’s what everyone does. Everyone leaves me. I am flawed. I am irreparable. I am supposed to be left. Why would anyone ever not leave me? How dare I let myself think for even one moment that maybe someone was here to stay.

As time went on and I continued to express my feelings in response to her “solution”, she said she wanted to clarify – that I was catastophising. It felt like she was trying to cover her tracks, to be honest, but I just don’t know anymore. She said that no, she wasn’t giving up on me, and that transferring therapists was just one possible solution to me being ineffective and these issues between us. I reminded her that yes I was ineffective this week; but look at where I’ve come from, look at how I have managed myself and our relationship in recent months. I asked her to focus on that instead of the one week I fucked up, especially as I was recognising and taking full responsibility for my actions and doing everything in my power to get back on track.

She couldn’t understand that the fact she even so much as THOUGHT about me seeing another therapist could be what was causing me such distress, regardless of whether that might happen or not. Even if that is only one of 100 solutions, if she could think of that as being a possible answer, then she has totally betrayed me. Just the knowledge that she had considered me seeing a different therapist to her in itself was enough to bring my whole world crashing down.

The session was a mess. I couldn’t look at her. I could not stop my tears. My head felt like it was about to explode.

About half way through, she started to really bother me. She started yawning and shuffling and shifting, and even went to the toilet during our session for the first time ever. She also got up and stood by the heater, started stretching her legs, moved the table and her chair into different positions – all things she has never done before. I was feeling really uncomfortable with all of the above and trying to understand why she was acting so differently to usual. I was completely honest with her, brutally honest. It was clear I was pissed. I needed her to know it. I told her how uncomfortable I felt with all the above and how angry and confused it left me. I told her that how she was interacting with me was making me question reality and what was going on for her and between us, making me hypervigilant and scared, making me feel unsafe. 

She started describing her symptoms to me, expressed a pain in her legs, a sleepiness, a disconnection, and agreed that she was in fact restless and discombobulated like I had noticed. She told me that there was no personal reason why she should be feeling that way, and that usually when she has this experience within a session (for no tangible reason related to herself) it’s because her client is dissociating. Making it all about me.

I told her I was no more dissociated than usual. I mean fuck I was dissociated, but I’m always dissociated – and she’s never been like that with me. She yawned again, in fact it happened 4-5 times overall. By the last one, I flipped out and forcefully requested for her to PLEASE STOP YAWNING. I reiterated how distressed I was feeling off the back of how she was interacting with me, told her I felt like she was annoyed, bored, waiting for the session to end, wanting to get rid of me, unable to focus on me and not understanding my distress. I explained how her behaviour was making me feel the need to assess her with more scrutiny and attend to the situation taking the focus off of myself; that it was making me want to look after or fix her, which I didn’t feel was appropriate.

When I told her these things she told me that I was judging and mind-reading, and that I needed to pull back and watch where my brain was taking me. She said I was trying to find any evidence I could to fit my emotions. WHAT. I was actually trying to use evidence from observable behaviours and reality (i.e her yawning and restlessness for example) in order to try and develop an informed understanding of what the fuck was going on between us. 

She said I needed to check the facts of the situation, but that was exactly what I was doing, and the facts were that she WAS behaving very weirdly with me. She again told me that “weird” was a judgment. And when I said “you know what I mean”, she responded that “actually no, I can’t mind read, can I?”. I felt like she was pressing my buttons on purpose, being so obstructive, passive aggressive and insensitive. It felt traumatising.

When I accused her of acting bored or angry with me, she started arguing that how she felt in terms of the sleepiness and restlessness was no reflection of how she was consciously feeling in relation to me (i.e. She wasn’t angry or bored) – bringing it back to the “this is what happens when my client dissociates” excuse. Once again, I felt like I was being blamed for her odd behaviour, and being punished for feeling distressed about it. 

Her justification also pissed me off more, because as humans we exist in relation to other people, and if we notice something different in one person in a dyadic relationship, it’s probably telling of something that is going on within that relationship. It’s not just about one person – it’s not just about “the client dissociating”. The therapist brings their own shit too. Her shit was definitely coming out in the session. Plus, I have often been more dissociated than today and yet she has never acted how she did earlier during any of those instances. 

As I started getting more angry and expressing everything I was experiencing to her, she told me that this wasn’t about me and her but that it was about me and my past relationships – specifically, my mum. I had been talking about how I feel like everything I was saying was wrong, despite my best efforts to just do right, be a good person and not cause others to suffer, all I do is end up fucking everything up for others – and in turn for myself. Instead of seeing how this actually was true within the current situation with her, she kept bringing it back to my past, asking if this was a familiar feeling to me and where it came from. 

I told her that yes it is a familiar feeling but that I don’t have many memories of my childhood and so I’m not sure where it first came from, I find it hard to access specific examples, but I am open to exploring this when we have resolved the situation between us. She told me that my inability to access my past is just another way of me dissociating and that it acts to create a smoke screen to what the actual issues are. I expressed to her I was willing to address the core issues but asked how the fuck I am supposed to do so if a) I don’t know what I’m looking for and b) I don’t have a clear idea of my childhood. I find it hard to remember how I was or how I felt and that’s not on purpose. 

She said we would have to work on ways to access that stuff together. So I asked how I could access it, and I was surprised when she told me that she didn’t know. I got even more angry. “How can you tell me that what I experience is a smoke screen to what is really there, but when I ask you as my therapist how to access what is beyond the smoke screen you get mad at me for having, you tell me you don’t even know!?” Once again, I felt I was in a lose-lose situation. 

At the end of the 90 minutes she told me that she wanted me to decide how we are going to use my Thursday session. She said that if we do EMDR, it has to come from me, as she’s not going to be another person who forces me into doing something. I get it. But I don’t feel SAFE doing trauma work with her right now, because we are in the middle of this huge rupture. I told her this, explaining that I would need to feel very comfortable with her, and like this situation is resolved, before delving into EMDR again. 

She started telling me not to use the judgment “safe” and asking me if my emotion of fear was justified? “You know where the door is, you’re not trapped in here, are you?”, instead of acknowledging why maybe EMDR right now would be fucking scary. Especially considering we are in the middle of the worst rupture we’ve ever had together and it is incredibly distressing and inducing emotions beyond explanation in me. Who gives a fuck if fear is DBT-defined “justified” in terms of my “life being in danger”; the important thing is that how I was feeling today was fucking VALID. Even I could validate myself for once in my life.

I felt completely unseen. She seemed totally unable to validate how or why I was in such a distressed state, and couldn’t see my feelings as justified, sticking rigidly to those DBT definitions. I thought, “After you trying to assure me for almost 2 years that you feel a certain way about me and are never going to give up on or leave me, for me to then hear that you have considered the possibility of me transferring to another therapist, HOW AM I NOT SUPPOSED TO NOT HAVE EMOTIONS (and valid judgments) IN RESPONSE TO THAT?!!?”

I walked out of the session without eye contact or a thank you, because I hate her guts right now and am beyond hurt that I cannot even describe this pain. All I want to do is hurt myself. But I’m not, because some part of me still wants to fix our relationship and the likelihood of that happening if I am “ineffective” is slim to none. The fact that I am not giving in to urges, merely because of how doing so would worsen the situation in terms of our relationship, is making me hate myself even more. Because why am I so invested in saving (what feels like on my own) a relationship with someone who has hurt me so unbelievably much. 

Why do I love and hate her in the way that I do? Even though she has hurt me in a way I never thought she would, and betrayed all the trust that has taken me so long to build with her, why do I still feel like she’s the most significant person in my world? 

A Profound Dream about Me and My Therapist

My therapist was at my Mum’s house in the morning, helping Mum clear some toys in my sister’s room. I heard them talking and tried to overhear, but they realised I was awake. My therapist challenged my “morning ritual” but I wasn’t comfortable confronting it yet. So I snuck out of my room when she wasn’t looking and into the bathroom to quickly shower. 

I was rushing as I wanted to see why she was at our house and not miss any time with her! I was really anxious and worried that she would leave before I saw her properly. Damn my morning ritual! But I had to shower first. However, the shower (the one in the bath) got stuck after I had finished, and water was going everywhere. For some reason she was right outside the bathroom, so I called to her to help me fix it. 

She came in before I was ready as she misheard me saying “don’t come in!” for “come in!”, so I quickly grabbed a towel and held it over me. She was sort of trying to look at me even though I told her to look away, but for some reason I didn’t mind that much. I managed to wrap the towel around me and she started to fix the shower. She was then naked in the bath trying to fix it and turn it off, so that her clothes didn’t get wet. We were both quite chilled though, for some reason; it wasn’t too weird – there was just this feeling of safe motherly-daughterly trust in the air. 

Next thing I know, I am at a table with her and some other professionals and they are staging some sort of intervention. My therapist informs me that she has set up a mentoring service and that she is offering to take me on. How the service works is you pay £400 a week for the standard version (or £8,000 a month for the unlimited version) for her services. 

One of the male clinicians explained that it doesn’t work for a lot of people, but that they had been reviewing my case and that for people with my difficulties it might help get my life back on track. Because of “your social anxiety, depression and trauma, it could really help you”. They told me they were worried about me and this was a measure they took for extreme patients who needed such a level of support. I found that validating to hear.

I was informed of what it would entail: my therapist would stay at my Mum’s house with me, basically live with us, be there most of the time to help me with my life, come with me to social events, out and about, helping expose me to the things I find challenging and supporting me with them. She would be doing something called “adult exposure therapy” with me. 

She told me having the mentoring didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have therapy with her; it was just a supplementary tool to enable me to get my life back once and for all, as the team were feeling a bit lost and thought this could be a last shot for me. She said it would also include creative ways of expressing myself, that we would come up with together. 

She asked if my dad would be willing for me to do it, or if insurance would cover it, and I told her it would be fine. I was so excited at the prospect, even though I had to play it cool. For some reason though, I was also extremely shocked and dissociated, and tried to tell her this. I was getting quite dizzy and struggling to hold myself together as I was pretty overwhelmed by the whole situation. But she was gentle and supportive and I was really hopeful that we could make this “mentoring” service work, especially after how special it felt for me to have her at Mum’s house earlier that day.

I was then in a large old-fashioned hall, with some other girls, maybe also patients of a sort. I started dancing and singing, acting and improvising, in front of everyone. Each scene I played was a different chapter of pain from within my life. For example, a self harm scene, a sexual trauma scene, an anorexia scene, a “what neediness feels like” scene. 

It was all extremely moving and emotional, like expressive movement/ dance therapy, or contemporary dance. I didn’t have any inhibitions, even though one of my biggest fears in life is dancing. I was also singing in it despite not being able to sing! And even though it was entirely improvised, it was a pretty professional and incredible performance. At the end, everyone was so impressed with how wonderfully beautiful and expressive I had been. They couldn’t believe I had made it all up on the spot, nor how profoundly my pain had shone through. 

I found myself in a large hotel of sorts, and had been told that my therapist was the “Dean” and that her office was the Dean’s office. Well that sounded important… I was impressed. Anyway, I had to be somewhere in half an hour but I needed her company. So I headed to reception and asked for her. They mistook me for her, so I corrected them: “no, I’m looking for her”, and so they dialled her for me. 

Once I was in her office, I asked her if this was the new business she had set up, and she said that yes, indeed it was. I asked her how many other clients she had taken on, and she said it was just one other girl, and me. She said over half of the week she would be spending and living with me at Mum’s house, and just a couple of days with the other girl. She expressed a lot of love and care for me, and I was touched by how motivated and willing she was to work with me in such a dedicated and extreme way.

I told her I had to get somewhere although I can’t remember where, and we put it into google maps. It said the walk was 23 minutes to a station, under a tunnel/ walkway connected to a busy road from the hotel. She said she would come with me as she was now my mentor, which I wasn’t expecting, but was elated about. 

We started walking together and I felt really happy knowing that I would have her in my life so much from that moment. I kept giving her cuddles and she had to basically do whatever I wanted. We walked together linking arms, me beaming, my BPD in full swing. I asked her what would happen if the mentoring went wrong. She said it was definitely a risk to let me have such a free reign and potentially cross every boundary with her, but that if it worked well, it could also change my life. I told her I would make it work; that we would make it work together.

Do Not Forget this Pain: A Note to Self

Even though it’s hard to remember exactly what it feels like when you’re not in it, you know how bad it gets and how suffocating that amount of pain feels. The number of times you’ve been in that contorted mess of a state on the floor, wailing because the pain is so intense, so out of control, repeating to yourself through the tears “Make it go away, make it stop, I’ll do anything”.

But when anything doesn’t mean killing yourself, how far are you willing to go to “make it stop” in another way? A way that is by no means easy or painless, but a way that is a way nonetheless. If you give this your all, who knows, maybe it will make life feel more bearable and you won’t feel the need to die any more. If you kill yourself, you’ll never know. Remember how painful it gets and the utter desperation and willingness to do whatever it takes that comes with that.

It’s okay to be scared of the pain. But no matter how painful the next part of this process, it can’t be worse than the pain you’ve already felt so many times before.

EMDR Rant

I had EMDR yesterday and to cut a long story short, I struggled with it. I didn’t struggle in a painful way, as in I didn’t struggle with the content or emotions; I struggled with the process and my judgments about it.

In fact, I struggled to access any memories or emotions. Instead, my brain didn’t form any helpful associations. I felt nothing. I struggled with the lack of a struggle; the lack of the pain I was expecting to arise from the process. At points I found myself willing my brain to recall things – almost trying to forcefully draw memories to the surface – so that at least there would be something there. Anything. But this made me worried that I would interrupt the process by forcing things too much. So, that ended me up focusing too strongly on the starting memory, which meant I got stuck on it. As a result I had barely anything to say each time my therapist asked me what had “come up” after each round of bilateral stimulation. It was a lose lose situation.

Nothing was coming up. I couldn’t access any memories, images or emotions. Even when we chose a painful memory to start with, I couldn’t feel anything in that moment. I know I felt intensely at the time but none of those emotions came up when recalling it. I was trying to “make myself” feel what I “should be” feeling but I was totally cut off from it. To make it worse, the memory kept fading away and I couldn’t picture faces or play it like a video reel in my mind, which is what I was supposed to be doing. The more clarity I tried to visualise the scene in, the more patchy it became.

A very small number of changes happened but they all made me more frustrated. At one point, the image turned into a cartoon and the main character resembled a monster from a childhood book I used to read. At another point, I had an image of a rocket launching on a TV screen. Great. Lastly, I visualised a black screen with white words going across it saying one of the core beliefs my therapist told me to focus on. But no image, no memories, just bloody writing on a bloody screen.

Apparently these were just more clever ways that my brain has learnt to dissociate from my experiences. I told her she was reading too much into it. She pulled this funny face that she does.

I was getting frustrated with myself and convinced I was “doing EMDR wrong”. My therapist said that no one fails at EMDR, and there is no such thing as doing it wrong. But I wasn’t reassured. All I could think was “My childhood clearly isn’t traumatic enough for this to work. My brain isn’t processing because there is nothing to process. I am a fraud.”

My therapist said all the right things but the judgments came thick and fast and I was digging myself into a rut. I know that if I had memories to back up the things she is claiming and all the theory I know so well, it would make it a lot easier for me to accept the nature of my childhood “trauma”. But there is nothing. In fact, I have barely any memories with the person who hurt me the most before the age of 10 or so. I can think of 2.

My therapist says the memories are so few because I learnt to cut off at a young age. But cut off from what? I remember themes and phrases and what certain people were like generally but I don’t have the specific memories to match them. And so I convince myself that it must be because nothing happened; my childhood was fine; we are digging around in the dark for something that isn’t there.

After the session, I felt so self-hating and irritable that I wanted to hurt myself. (I didn’t). I had a ton of self-directed anger and self-disgust, for being such a failure, attention-seeker, fraud and all the other terrible things I am. Beating myself up because my life “should have been worse”. The voice in my head telling me “it’s your fault you’re like this”.

I spoke to my therapist on the phone later on because I was struggling with the above big time. Again, she said all the right things, but for every point she had, my brain had a counter-argument. We decided that in order to try and move forwards with this, I’m going to have to put my own judgments about myself to one side, and try internalise her perception of me as my own. Even if I don’t believe her (which I don’t), even if I don’t believe it (which I don’t), faking it to make it by talking to myself in the way she talks to me.

I hope EMDR is better next week. She said it’s common to feel this way at the start and that it can take a while to get used to. I’m obviously not convinced. But I hope she can prove me wrong.

A Journal Entry about Dissociation

She was angry and unpleasant with me this morning and I really noticed the effect it had on me. I felt like I needed to leave the situation but I had to stay at the same time because it wasn’t worth rocking the boat – it never is. At these times it feels impossible for me to stay present in the situation, but I have to stay there physically; hence the dissociation – the disconnect between my physical self and the rest of me. 

I felt like I had been taken back in time; I wasn’t 22 any longer. I was small, but I made myself invisible – and somewhat invincible – so that I could let her anger wash over me. I went into this muted state of ‘non-existence’. It makes me feel like I can give people the free reign to act however they please towards me, and I can then just take their shit until any irrational or extreme state has passed and I can breathe again. 

I become the one who has to take the blame and apologise for causing the unrest, for provoking or misunderstanding, for not judging the situation or the person correctly. It is never about them – it’s all me. I sacrifice my own emotional state for the other person and it’s easy; it’s something I’ve always done. 

When I went into my room a short while later and saw myself in the mirror, I couldn’t look at myself with my pathetic doe-eyed stare. I felt a real sense of “There is something going on here, but I am also not here”. I knew there were feelings but I couldn’t feel them. My humanness had been stripped away and I was left with nothing but a troubled emptiness.

Christmas, Cookies and aCcumalting Positives

I spent a good number of hours creating this baby in an attempt to build mastery and accumulate positives during what has been a challenging week. I am proud of the result, and am therefore showcasing it here. BE JEALOUS. Happy holidays, friends.


 

Dissociating and Regressing to a Childlike State

Something terrifying happened in therapy this week. We had been talking about difficult childhood memories, although I was dazed enough that I wasn’t finding it particularly painful. When that came to a natural end, we moved on to talk about something irrelevant. Very soon however, a wave of fatigue and heaviness started to come over me. I tried to push it away as I usually do with these things, but it was much thicker and weightier than usual and I was slowly losing control.

I didn’t tell my therapist I was dissociating because I thought I could control it. However, after a certain amount of time had gone by and it was still getting stronger, it became pretty self-evident. By the time she noticed the extent of the hold it had on me, I was too far gone to bring myself back. She tried to get me to make eye contact and move a little, but I was too taken over by this point.

My legs had started shaking and were now bouncing up and down uncontrollably, as though I was having a seizure. However, the rest of my body was paralysed. My eyes were closed and I couldn’t open them, I was unable to move my head from the position it was in, and as desperately as I was trying to shout “HELP ME”, I could not speak any words. In some ways it resembled a panic attack, but based on my previous panic attacks, this was very different. It was a severe dissociative episode in which I had lost total control over my body.

I can’t remember what order this all happenened in but there was more to it than just the dissociation. As well as dissociating, I seemed to have regressed into a childlike state at some point around that time in the session. I felt I had no control over this and that I was not me, it was not a choice thing and my consciousness was very different to usual. This baby version of me was far less restrained in her mannerisms. Apparently it became very obvious that I was not quite myself any longer. Usually I am very controlled; but in those moments I expressed myself as a baby would with no restraint or my usual infinite shame. Rationality and higher brain functions didn’t exist, I was back to an infant-like mode of being.

My therapist was talking to me in a soothing voice to match my baby state, and when all of my other senses had muted, her voice was the one thing keeping me tied to reality. When the shaking got so bad, she came over to try and help ground me by talking me through what I needed to do slowly and grounding me with her touch (with permission) on my shaking knees and feet. I was slowly able to move parts of my body although my legs were still shaking of their own accord. When my voice returned I started begging between gasps of breath for her to make the shaking stop as it was highly distressing. Eventually we managed to get me to the bathroom to use cold water for ice diving which calmed my system down massively and triggered me back into reality enough to attempt conversation as an adult again.

The highest intensity part of the whole episode probably lasted 20 minutes but the residual disconnect and fear lingered on and on and on. My therapist walked me out because I was in such a daze and stayed with me until her next client. I don’t think she had ever seen me like that. As I was walking, it was as though I was on the moon. Everything was in slow motion and I couldn’t bear to look at people because they looked so alien to me.

It took me about four times longer than usual to get to the station because I was so out of it, freaked out and lost in my own little world. My memory of the whole thing is fragmented and I don’t know what came first – the dissociation or regression or if they were one and the same. But it was fucking terrifying and confusing and I can’t find much at all online in the way of answers.


I reckon the regression was serving as a coping mechanism. Without me even realising my system had become overwhelmed with this childhood stuff and its way of dealing with that was to cut off and almost compartmentalise different parts of myself.

I also think that this regression episode was functioning as an inadvertent non-verbal method of communication. It was showing both myself and my therapist where I was at emotionally, and what I subsequently needed. The sadness was so big but because I wasn’t able to recognise it from my adult self, the baby version of me could express it instead in an expressive and unrestrained way. This included talking in a baby voice, asking incessantly for cuddles, curling up into a fetal position on the chair, and getting my therapist to swaddle me in a blanket I could hide under.

I was so ashamed after I started to come out of the state, but my therapist told me that I had nothing to apologise for, and that what happened was giving us information – information that we could use. I think she is right in that the episode provided a lens into some of the unresolved issues from my past, so that we can use what happened to inform how we move forward and help me heal from that together.

How Do I Manage Anxiety?

I haven’t been posting very much recently because I have an endless amount of deadlines and applications to get done. My anxiety has been through the roof and whether it is correlated with the stress of the above or not, I do not know. The way my anxiety manifests is almost 100% physical, so a lot of the time it is impossible to work out what is actually going on. Basically, it is not a cognitive tangible thing; it is a chronic state of physiological hyper-vigilance permanently trapped in the cells of my body.

People ask me how I cope with anxiety and I do not lie. I can tell you I do not “cope” with my anxiety – it totally consumes me! Imagine coming down with a virus and feeling so nauseous you can barely eat, so delicate you can barely get out of bed, and so dizzy you have to keep your eyes closed in order to stop the sea-sickness. I guess right now that is what my anxiety is doing to me.

My way of dealing with my anxiety unmedicated does not, unfortunately, involve getting rid of it. As much as I wish it could fuck off 24/7, willing anxiety away amounts to absolutely nothing. It is the same as saying “Hey I have a virus and it’s making me throw up my intestines twelve times a minute, but maybe if I wish it wasn’t this way, it won’t have to be any longer!” Nope… it doesn’t work like that. Not for me anywho.

The one thing I can do – and do do – however, is the one thing that enables me to continue having at least some semblance of a life to actually live. Very simply (although paradoxically the hardest thing in the world), despite the anxiety, I keep doing life.  

What I mean by this is that no matter how overwhelming the symptoms, no matter how sick nor tense nor shaky I feel, I do not let it dictate my actions 100% of the time. Despite the anxiety, I get up and do exactly what I would do if I didn’t have the disorder. I go to uni, I see people (sometimes!), I get public transport, I make phonecalls to companies, I keep appointments, I force myself to eat, I make conversations, I attend courses. I pretend to be fully functional in order to maximise my functionality. Even when I feel like I am dying internally, I act “as if”. I plough on. I work on my long term goals. I refuse to let the anxiety destroy my present and future aspirations.

To try and understand how much effort this takes, it would probably be helpful to think back to the virus analogy. Continuing turning up to life when afflicted with this level of physical anxiety is akin to being wrecked with a hellish virus but having to act like it just does not exist. Shaking and sweating? Doesn’t matter! Throwing up, diarrhoea, or both at the same time? Oh well! Too nauseous to stand straight? Do it anyway! Heart rate so high you fear for your life? Keep on keeping on regardless!

That. Is. How. I. Roll. 

If I gave in and stopped rolling, I would come to a standstill. I would not just be tormented by the crippling reality of anxious symptoms, I would also lose all the things in my life that make it in any way worth living. Gosh, it would be so much easier to drug myself up and avoid life in order to dampen the anxiety by even a smidgen, but if I did that I would have little reason to keep doing life at all. When even the ‘safety behaviours’ fail to reduce the anxiety by a worthwhile amount, the options become pretty limited anyway. 

I can either: a) experience crippling anxiety and venture out into the world, get stuff done, help people, build mastery and keep fighting despite how fucking tough it is, or b) experience crippling anxiety and hide away from the world, feel like poop, get nothing done, let all my hopes shrivel into nothing, but remain pretty much just as anxious anyway. Neither option is ideal, but the former is what keeps me plodding – and makes my existence worthwhile.

Ask me how I manage with anxiety? The truth is I don’t manage it well at all. I suppose I just refuse to let it totally manage me.

One Of Those Nights

(To be sung through sniffles and tears to the tune of “Show me the way to go home”)

Show me the way to feel okay
I’m tired and I want to feel at peace
I had another breakdown about an hour ago
And it’s really fucking up my Chi

Wherever I may be
In my bed, on the floor, or in my dreams
Existential suffering is stalking me
And I’m tearing at the seams

Show me how to stop the tears
I’m hopeless and drowning in my fears
Not sure how much longer I can take this for
It’s been like this for years

Wherever I may be
It is never far away enough from me
I can always rely on my bloody BPD
To strip me of all my sanity

Intrusive Suicidal Thoughts… When I’m Not Suicidal

People experience suicidal thoughts in all different ways. One of the ways I experience them is in the form of intrusions. For me, intrusions related to suicide do not just happen when I am actually feeling like I want to die; they often are random and unrelated to my overall mood state. I can be in a relatively stable mindset when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, I become bombarded with intrusions telling me to kill myself.

For me, it isn’t that I hear voices that are external to me; I don’t. I know they are my own thoughts, however, they don’t feel like my own as they take on a different quality to usual. Often it feels like they are thoughts which have been generated by an external locus and then implanted into my head. They are usually also second person thoughts, so “you” instead of “I”, or instruction words like “do X, do Y”.

This is immensely frustrating as it gets in the way of whatever I’m doing, especially if I am amongst people and all I can hear is my brain telling me I need to die. It is especially unsettling when I start having these thoughts when in a more positive frame of mind, because the contrast between how I feel emotionally compared with the mental experience of the distressing intrusions is so stark. It’s like… “WTF are you doing here, you’re not bloody welcome!?”, and then when they refuse to settle, I want to bash my head on a wall just to get rid of the internal noise.

It is almost easier for me when I am experiencing suicidal thoughts during the times I am actually feeling suicidal. At least then the thoughts make sense to me as they match my emotional experience. The more random intrusive ones, on the other hand, just send me into a spin. Sometimes they seem to be linked with dissociation and paranoia; but for the most part I remain dumbfounded by the ways my brain continues to fuck me over like this, even when things are supposedly feeling manageable.

Back To Where It All Began

I wanted to write a profound and meaningful post, but the truth is that I have no words for what I want to say.

I spent the past week in the US, visiting friends I met when I was in hospital there almost 2 years ago. I hadn’t seen any of them since, but many of us stay in touch. When I found out a few months ago about a friend from the hospital who sadly took her own life, I decided that I needed to go back to that group of friends to reconnect, and seek and share comfort and love.

I spent the first half of the trip in New York. I have never been before and it was more vast and awe-inspiring than I ever could have imagined. I played tourist; I went to see a show on Broadway, ate my first garlic knots, viewed the city from the Empire State observation deck, went on a Big Bus tour, and spent a lot of time with 3 different friends in and around the city.

I spent the second half of the trip in Boston. I stayed with a friend, and saw a few others, and did a bunch of touristy things. The highlight of my trip was going back to visit the hospital where I started my BPD recovery journey, almost 2 years ago. I was nervous because my expectations were so high, and I didn’t want to be disappointed. But it could not have gone any better. It was an overwhelmingly special and positive experience.

I was reunited with almost my entire treatment team. I spent a number of invaluable hours catching up and hugging my old therapist, psychiatrist, support workers and other members of staff. Members of staff who don’t even work there any longer came to see me and went out of their way to make my visit the most joyful it could have been. For that – for these people – I could not be more thankful.

I returned the next day because they wanted to spend more time with me. I felt so touched and honoured and grateful beyond words. I felt important. I felt loved. I felt worthy.

I lapped up their attention and affection, I let myself be vulnerable, I updated them on my life, they updated me on theirs. They told me I was a ray of sunshine during such a distressing time (Donald Trump related, I shall say no more) and I was able to internalise how happy they were to see me. They told me that seeing me doing what I am doing is what motivates them to keep doing what they’re doing. They told me that I make their jobs feel worthwhile. I was beaming for the entire time we spent together. My face hurt for hours after from smiling so hard.

I have felt so many emotions this past week. I have cried a thousand happy and sad tears. I have been nostalgic, joyful, scared, proud, anxious, connected, concerned, envious, grateful. I have been every dialectic there is, every paradoxical combination of emotions. I have had urges which I understand are my brain’s way of dealing with some of what I have been exposed to, and what that brings up in me. I have also felt the deepest love and longing for some of the people who have had the most profound impact on my life.

This trip was such a huge deal for me. I wish I could stay in that bubble for ever. But it is time to return home. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so achingly happy and so painfully sad at exactly the same time.

When a Minor Mistake Becomes the End of the World

I have Borderline Personality DisorderI feel emotions to a level that is off the scale, and I react intensely to those experiences. One of my biggest triggers is feeling like I have hurt someone inadvertently. When I let someone down or evoke even the tiniest amount of negative affect in someone I care about, I fall into a spiral of guilt and self-hatred that totally consumes me.

This means that I am hard on myself to the point that one mistake can lead me to feel as extreme as suicidal. If I accidentally hurt someone even just for a fleeting moment, I can become so self-hating and fearful that I truly believe the world would be better off without me.

Even though I never intend to upset anyone, and even when the person I upset forgives me or even forgets about the situation completely, I find it near impossible to forgive myself. I cannot seem to return to an emotional baseline for far longer than is reasonable. I just cannot let myself off the hook; it feels like too much of a threat to let go.

When I do anything that is the opposite of pleasing others, it feels like the end of the world. It feels like the walls around me come crashing down with such force that nothing can keep things upright. No matter how seemingly small or insignificant the incident, the only thing that helps soothe my distress is the constant reassurance of the person I have ‘wronged’. And even then, often that isn’t good enough to bring me back down.


The other day I sent a funny photo of my sister with food spilled down her top to her boyfriend. He had been staying with us during the previous days – and this was not the first time my sister had spilled food on herself, nor the first time we had laughed about it together! I was trying to be playful and develop our friendship further, by joking around and acting like I would with any other friend or family member. Because they are at a stage in their relationship where they are totally comfortable in each other’s company, and have seen one another in every state, I didn’t think it would be a problem. (It’s not like they have just starting dating or anything – I am not that clueless!) I wanted my sister to think I was putting effort in, to show her that I care about that part of her life. I thought we would all have a giggle. My intentions were only positive.

However, she responded in a way that was totally the opposite to what I had intended. She was angry with me and started speaking to me in a tone and manner pierced with disdain and disgust towards me. I felt like what I had done was the worst thing in the world for the fact I had caused a negative reaction in her, however big or small. As a result, she was acting cold and bitter towards me, and the light, jokey dynamic of the past hour had disappeared completely. Although when I apologised she said that she forgave me, I could feel that she did not.

I was officially The Worst Person In The World for causing her the negative emotions she was feeling. My own distress was heightened by the fact that my only positives intentions had entirely backfired. The “I can’t do anything right even when I try my upmost” core-belief was activated at top strength.

I went into my bedroom feeling totally and utterly defeated. I (literally) burst into the tears that I had been trying to hide from my sister, and spent a good half hour crying into my teddy bear, feeling like I deserved only to die. Every time I started calming down, the reality of just how Awful A Person I was hit me yet again, and I would collapse back into the old self-hatred and pit of desperation.

After about an hour I texted my sister (who was in her bedroom 10 metres away) telling her how sorry I was. She said it was fine and asked me not to do it again, but that she had forgiven me and that it really was not a ‘thing’ any more. I wasn’t convinced so texted her back asking for reassurance (surprise surprise!). Eventually I went into her bedroom – still sobbing, eyes bloodshot, face red and puffy – and started apologising profusely.

She started laughing at me (in an endearing way) and telling me to “stop being such a cry-baby” because she was “totally over” the situation and it was “all fine”. I climbed into bed next to her and begged her for her forgiveness, over-justifying and explaining and apologising all the more. She let me sob into her shoulder whilst she reassured me that it was okay, that I wasn’t so awful after all and that I had her permission to move on 100%. The reassurance continued for a good while until I had calmed down enough to start taking back a little control.

I felt guilty not just because I had initially upset her, but also because from that point on the entire situation became about my distress and inability to regulate my guilt. Something so ‘small’ had become such a palaver in my head, which meant it all became about me when my intentions were totally the opposite to that. It really highlighted just how extreme my relationship with making mistakes is – and how hard I am on myself.

I am understanding more and more that these reactions come from my early interactions as a child, where one step out of line really was a threat. As a kid it made sense that any mistakes I made should feel like the end of the world. That was adaptive back then and it’s what moulded me to become the perfectionistic people-pleaser I am today. But it often goes too far, and when that happens it just causes havoc to my life and is more of a nuisance than anything else.

My therapist says trauma therapy is about equipping me with a choice. I hope that one day I am able to have more of a choice around these things. I hope to have more of a choice about the extent to which my past continues to dictate my present.