Don’t Call Me Lucky

The other evening my family were talking about the concept of luck. We were discussing my sister’s car accident that happened a few months ago, and my Mum was talking about how lucky my sister was to come away with only the relatively minor injuries that she sustained. 

I told them that I don’t believe it luck. Yes I am extremely grateful that my sister wasn’t more hurt in the accident. But I don’t put that down to “luck”. I believe in probability and coincidence. I believe in cause and effect. I am aware of the concept of privilege. But luck doesn’t come into any of that. 

Luck insinuates that neither we nor others can alter our circumstances for the better (or worse). It suggests that certain people get dealt bad cards by the universe for no reason other than because they are “unlucky”, even if a change in circumstances could have led to a very different outcome. 

It puts the responsibility onto the person who is either “lucky” or “unlucky”, when actually sometimes things happen because that is what all the events leading up to it determined would. Everything has a cause, nothing happens in a vacuum. People who have suffered multiple traumas haven’t suffered because they are “unlucky” as though it is some innate trait they possess, but because the world can be a very adverse place full of harmful people and circumstances.

Similarly, I don’t believe that my sister survived the car crash because she was lucky; she survived the car crash because a number of events came together that resulted in her surviving. Regardless of whether it could have been worse or better or different in any way, the distress and trauma she experienced as a result had a profound effect on her. Thats her reality, her truth, and what she has been left to deal with as a result.

One family member particularly disagreed and didn’t like what I was saying. Fair enough, we all have a right to our own opinion – and I can respect that. But then, unfortunately, the conversation took a horrible turn. They started arguing that if someone is sexually assaulted, but not raped, for example, then they should consider themselves “lucky”. Similarly, if someone is expecting twins, and one of the babies dies during childbirth, the mother is still “lucky” that at least one survived. 

This infuriated me!! Someone who experiences such a traumatising event should never be considered lucky nor forced to consider themselves as such! Calling a victim or a survivor lucky because it wasn’t “objectively worse” is exactly why I cannot stand the concept and use of the word “luck”. Neither of these situations should be associated with the word luck, ever!

Doing so completely invalidates the person’s experiences. It dismisses their distress and their pain and all the very real negative consequences of what they have been through. It puts the blame and responsibility onto the victim and what their response *should* be, instead of on the perpetrator or other external causes. 

“You’re lucky it wasn’t worse” is one of the most damaging things a survivor can be told. 

Guess what? There will always be someone who has it worse. Does that make everyone lucky it wasn’t worse for them, apart from the single person who’s at the top of the leaderboard? Fuck no! 

In my opinion, attributing an outcome to luck doesn’t add anything to the world. The concept of luck doesn’t need to exist for the world to keep spinning and people to keep smiling, crying, breathing and dying. We can be grateful and appreciative for what we have and we can be aware of our relevant privileges. That doesn’t mean we have to attribute all of that to luck. At the same time, we are allowed to feel pain as a consequence of the things we have been through. And we are allowed to do so without having to deny those experiences because we are “lucky they were not any worse”.

Good things happen to people. Bad things happen to people. Such is life. But please don’t tell people they’re lucky because you can’t accept their reality for what it is. 

When Your Trauma Makes You Deny Your Trauma

Dealing with trauma, whether formally or informally, is layered with challenge upon challenge. One of the biggest challenges I have been facing in the early days of trauma therapy is captured in this relatable quote I recently came across online:

“The first rule of the trauma club: we dismiss our traumas because someone else has it worse.”

Without fail, a large bulk of my recent trauma therapy sessions have become wrapped up in the above. We then end up spending so long challenging my self-judgments, the minimising, the comparing and the dismissing, that a lot of the deeper work gets sidelined. In fact, my therapist and I have realised that by me getting caught up in these cognitive distortions about the validity of what I have or have not been through, it is just another way of my brain deflecting from feelings and pain.

Every time my thoughts go down the avenue of “it wasn’t that bad”, “it doesn’t really count”, “so-and-so had it worse”, “it isn’t real trauma”, I end up moving further away from the true impact of what I’ve been through. As long as I’m stuck in a cycle of invalidating what’s happened to me, I can’t fully experience the pain that is associated with it.

I think, for a lot of us, a vital part of trauma work has to be around tackling this obstacle. Whether that’s by blocking the cognitive distortions when they come up, or challenging the self-judgments and invalidation directly, there is something important about noticing what function the thoughts serve in order to move forward in spite of them. 

I am supposed to try and remind myself when I notice the invalidating thoughts come up that “this is where my brain goes” to try and create a little distance. Thoughts are not facts, as they say in DBT. Pausing and saying to myself, “Wait, this is one of my brain’s clever ways of deflecting from what’s really going on” allows me to make a choice about whether I continue to go with that trail or not. I can either choose to perpetuate the self-berating, self-judging and self-invalidating. Or, I can try something else. I can encourage myself to notice the actual feelings that are there, the ones I try so hard to avoid, and let myself fully experience them. I can try and penetrate the smokescreen.

My brain has learnt 101 ways to disconnect from my experiences, because it’s so much easier to avoid them. But when avoidance seeps into every aspect of my life – including in trauma therapy where the whole point is to work towards reassociating and processing all the cut-off past experiences that I have avoided for so many years – it clearly isn’t serving me any more. 

So the challenge these days is to really notice where my brain is going, watching my thoughts from a distance and deciding what train I’m going to go with. The “my trauma isn’t really trauma” train might be an easier ride, but it isn’t going to get me very far. The alternative train, on the other hand, whilst terrifying and jerky and unfamiliar, might actually get me places.

I guess it all goes back to what an old therapist onces told me. As painful as it might be, in order to heal, we have to feel.

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.

‘Felt-Sense’ Nightmares

Last night I dreamt the same nightmare about 8 times. Every time I would wake up in a panic, sweating and with my heart pounding. And every time I fell back to sleep, the nightmare would reoccur. My friend was staying over and I feel extremely safe with her, but even her presence couldn’t calm my unconscious!

I’m frustrated because I cannot remember the specifics of the dreams, even though I remember the feelings associated with them like crystal. This happens often; I may not remember the actual images so clearly, but the felt sense of the experience remain intact and often overwhelming viscerally.

Usually the physical sensations associated with my nightmares are ones of panic. Often there is also shame, self-disgust, sadness or jealousy. Last night however I only remember anger. Literally suffocating anger as I was short of breathe each time I awoke. Feeling anger in this way is not common for me at all which makes it even more bizarre. Why anger!? I have never had such a strong sense of anger either within a dream or upon waking. I wonder what it means and if it’s related to my EMDR session at all. I’m going to text my T.

If anyone else has experience of dreams that become nightmarish thanks to the physical sensations they evoke (and perhaps the tangible images of the dream get lost, like mine did last night), please tell me your experiences!

My First EMDR Session

Yesterday was my first official EMDR session. My T forgot the buzzers so we had to try it with tapping instead (her tapping my hands which were placed palms-down on my lap). It was uncomfortable being so close to each other and having physical contact whilst I was feeling pretty anxious, but I was able to just about manage it at that point.

She wanted to start working with the core belief “I am bad”. The memory we had agreed to start with was an incident that happened when I was about 6 years old with my mother. She had gotten incredibly angry with me in public off the back of a menial mistake I had made completely by accident. She reacted with such disgust and lividity and I have never forgotten the shame I felt because of how she responded.

So working with the core belief “I am bad“,  the phrase we were going to replace it with was “I made an innocent mistake, and Mum was unable to manage her own emotions in that moment” or something of the like. I had to visualise the memory whilst she did the tapping for about 10-15 seconds at a time.

For a while, nothing came to mind and I was convinced it ‘wasn’t working’. After a few rounds however, I started getting very very hot and flushed with a lot of physical anxiety – verging perhaps on panic. I still hain’t had any tangible thoughts or memories come to mind, but my body was responding of its own accord. Apparently I store a lot of memories in my body. My T reminded me to breath in between sets, as apparently I was holding my breath without realising it – as I tend to do.

After a couple more tapping sequences with the same memory, I suddenly had a visualisation of a water sprinkler in the garden of my Dad’s old house. I had also become less anxious and less heated, but didn’t think the memory meant anything as it seemed so insignificant. I told my T about the water sprinkler when she asked what was going on for me, and she asked what I thought it represented. I told her I didn’t know, that we used to play in the sprinkler as kids, but I wasn’t picturing a specific time or incident. When she asked how I felt within that memory, I told her I assumed I would have been happy. She explained that my brain was probably trying to block the distressing memory I had previously been panicking over by instead lingering on a happier and easier subject matter.

She then suggested that we think instead of a recent time that I have felt the “I am bad” core belief, as the earlier memory seemed to be too blocked off. I told her about a situation this weekend. I had been feeling paranoid with a friend, convinced they were angry with me or that I had done something wrong – essentially that “I am bad“. I visualised this recent memory and the ‘felt sense’ accompanying it, and she recommenced the tapping.

The next memories that flowed were all times related to when I was bullied in primary school. I remembered being called names, being run away from and being left out of my ‘friendship group’ for various petty reasons. I fed these back to her and we continued. The next memory was of the first time I ever self-harmed aged 11. I was in the shower at my swimming club when one girl asked what happened. I had wanted people to see my injury but without them knowing I had done it to myself, but felt shame for this thought process. I was terrified to be vulnerable but also desperate to be seen at the same time.

My T encouraged me to focus on this, but then my brain skipped to thoughts about how “I am so dramatic, I don’t have any ‘proper’ trauma, it doesn’t make sense I am this messed up, I shouldn’t be like this, it’s my fault” and similar things to this. She asked me to try and focus on the feelings, and less so on the thoughts. The feelings were shame and fear. The shame was the strongest. She continued another round of tapping.

As I was focusing on the shame, my body started getting unbearably hot and I was becoming increasingly flushed and anxious with it. I had a memory of one of the times I was sexually assaulted, and tried to block it out. I was unable to and must have squirmed or flinched a little as my T asked me what was going on. I muttered “I don’t know” because I couldn’t say the related words, as usual. She encouraged me to help her out by communicating what was going on. I tried my best and said “A memory I can’t say“. I’m sure she could have guessed the theme I was referring to though.

She told me to keep going with it. So I did. I let myself focus on the memory a bit harder but soon my whole body was having a horrible reaction and I couldn’t contain it any longer. A wave of panic took over me, my heart felt like it was pulsating through my chest, and my breathing was becoming very rapid and irregular. This was all very fast and she was actually still in the middle of tapping when the surge of panic peaked. I had a reflex reaction to shrink away from her and ended up automatically pushing her hands off of my lap, perhaps more violently that I had intended to. I curled over towards one side of the chair and crossed one leg over the other to try and gain control over my body and block all the internal sensations out.

I was panicking and dissociated at the same time, as often happens when things overwhelm me in therapy or elsewhere. My T asked me to get up and do star jumps, then label things around the room and sip some water, before going to quickly “ice dive” in the bathroom. That was the end of the EMDR part of the session, because I had gone outside of my window of tolerance and she suggested we call it a day and spend the remainder of the time talking instead. Next week we are going to try again but using the buzzers instead of tapping. Hopefully that will help me be more able to stick with the processing for longer.


I am doing a ton better than last week, I am pretty much stabilised and back to my usual up-and-down Borderline self. Out of hospital, back to work, back to life. However, one thing is different and it’s seriously unsettling: Nightmares.

For the last week or two, I have been having vivid and suffocating nightmares almost every night, then waking up in a confused and panicked sweat. The themes of the nightmares have been related to events of my past, and in them it feels as real as though I were awake; there is nothing dreamlike about them, so it’s hard to differentiate from reality.

I am wondering if as I approach trauma therapy (EMDR), even though I haven’t started the reprocessing part yet, talking and thinking about traumatic material in itself is having an impact on my subconscious already?  

From what I’ve read, traumatic memories are held unprocessed in the brain alongside the attached emotions and physical sensations. During sleep, the brain continues to try and process the memory until it is resolved. That’s why people often feel a sense of clarity upon waking, when the brain has done its job of processing unresolved information successfully. 

However, if a traumatic memory gets in the way, it often blocks that resolution. People will experience nightmares that they wake up from in the middle, before the brain has had the opportunity to process it fully. The emotions and sensations linger and can last well into the day. So although healthy nightmares lead to effective healing, interrupted nightmares mean that the healing process is disrupted. The nightmares continue, and it is a vicious cycle.

Maybe it has to get worse with EMDR, before it can get better?

Being Introduced to EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a type of therapy that was originally developed for the treatment of trauma, and is most known for its success at helping those with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) recover. It can also be used to treat other disorders including depression, anxiety, BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), C-PTSD (complex PTSD) and others.

(I found this link pretty helpful in trying to understand how EMDR actually works)

After months of talking about it in therapy, I am finally about to start EMDR with my (previously DBT) therapist. We have not started any of the reprocessing yet – that is still at least a few weeks away – but we are in the preparation stage, so I am getting a feel for how it works.

Firstly, she has explained to me how EMDR works and introduced me to some of the concepts. Whilst I have done a lot of research online into EMDR, I am finding it hard to completely grasp how it works before actually experiencing it for myself. Because I haven’t started the actual reprocessing yet, I am still unsure of what to expect. So far however, this is what I’ve got:

1) The set-up of the room is different to usual, which at first I found quite unnerving and will probably take a while to get used to. I have gotten comfortable with the familiarity of sitting with my therapist on opposite sides of a small room in big comfy armchairs. Pretty ‘typical’ for psychotherapy. During EMDR, however, we have to sit right next to each other – uncomfortably close – on chairs facing opposite directions, in the middle of the room. This is so that she can guide the reprocessing, which I will outline below:

2) Next, she explained and showed how she can conduct the reprocessing part of EMDR in one of three possible ways (I believe there are more out there). The first involves her ‘waving’ her hand or two fingers from side to side in front of my face, whilst I have to follow the movement of her hand with my eyes. The second involves me placing my hands on my knees, and her tapping on top of my hands with her own – one at a time, continually and in quick succession. The third involves me holding two ‘buzzers’ – which vibrate independently and consecutively, left right left right etc – one in each hand. Different people find the approaches effective to different degrees. So, closer to the time, and perhaps with some trial and error, we will see which one works best for me.

3) There is a big emphasis on finding a ‘safe place’ – an image in my head of somewhere I feel at peace in – to refer back to for visualisation at different points within the processing. This image has to be sensed on all levels, including and especially in my body. When we do the reprocessing, it is the felt sense of this image that we want to be transferred into my body, so that I can work towards freedom from the usual trauma-related body sensations that I carry with me.

4) Sessions are longer than typical psychotherapy sessions. They can be anything from 60-90 minutes. My therapists knows me well enough to believe that we will need the full 90. So the entire structure of my therapy is changing – and that in itself brings with it a fair amount of discomfort.

5) With single “big-T” traumas, EMDR can ‘work’ in as few as a couple of sessions. It sounds like a miracle cure really – some studies show as high as 98% reversal of all PTSD symptoms after 6 sessions, for example. However, for multiple-trauma PTSD, complex PTSD, relational trauma, prolonged “little-t” traumas and BPD and the like, it isn’t so clear-cut. Years worth of ingrained trauma will take hours to reprocess. It is going to be painful and it is going to bring up a whole lot of unresolved and hidden issues. I’m terrified.

6) Grounding grounding grounding. I have so much work to do on grounding. It turns out I most likely have a dissociative disorder as well as BPD, and this can really get in the way of EMDR. We use ice cubes in my sessions occasionally, which I find extremely helpful, and I have a ton of skills to practice in between my sessions to help with it.

I still feel far away from fully understanding this therapy, but I am hopeful about it. I have heard great things about EMDR and my therapist is exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced within the field. I have so much faith in her. So, even though I am terrified of the uncertain things in store for me in the near future of therapy, I trust that she will catch me if I fall.

I feel like DBT has saved my life from the outside in, but I am hopeful that EMDR is the therapy that maybe, just maybe, will provide me with the healing I need from the inside out. 

Approaching Trauma Therapy

“You have no real trauma in your life; you could get better in the click of two fingers if you really wanted to”

These were the words an ex-therapist said to me quite a few years ago. I have never forgotten the smug look of disdain she wore on her face that day, nor the distress it caused me, nor the invalidation of the other therapists at the treatment centre. 

For someone who struggles to acknowledge many aspects of my past, and chronically invalidates it, what happened that day was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. It dug me into the ground, it destroyed my trust and it ruined our relationship completely. It totally stunted my entire recovery process, and has continued to do so in ways even today. It has consistently gotten in the way of my current therapy as it has been a huge block to me feeling able to even consider doing trauma work. 

As my current therapist and I near a new type of trauma therapy known as EMDR (eye-moment desensitisation reprocessing), the old therapist’s words are stuck whirling around in my head – taking me over like Death Eaters. 

I have convinced myself that when we start EMDR, my therapist will ‘realise’ that there is ‘no material’ for us to even work with. In my imagination I envisage her throwing her arms into the air, and exclaiming and sighing with disbelief that “there really is nothing to process”. I am scared that she will finally seeing my past like that old therapist did – as insignificant, uneventful and petty – and that this really is the hard and fast truth.

I feel like such a fraud. 

In Memory of Participant 62

The other day at work, I transcribed an interview with a patient with BPD and PTSD that I will never forget. 

Her interviews touched me more deeply than any of the others I had come across. There was something so gripping about her story that I just had to acquaint myself with all the data we had on her in the system.

A while later, still thinking about her case, I asked my supervisor if she had conducted any follow-up interviews with this patient or if she knew how she was doing. She asked me why I was curious, and I told her how much this case had saddened me, and that I wondered and genuinely cared about how she was getting on. 

“Not good at all. So sad”. She said, choking up, “So sad because… because now… now she is dead.”

Her response shocked me on one level but I was almost expecting it on another. This poor young traumatised girl – this girl who I had just learnt so much about and in my own way, come to genuinely care about – had to be yet another sufferer with BPD lost through the tragedy of suicide. My heart sunk, my stomach flipped, my words faltered, and both of us starting crying. 

The saddest part is that she changed her mind last minute; she changed her mind, but she was too late to be saved. I have not stopped thinking about this. About her.

I never knew this girl but my heart aches for her for what she went through when she was alive. My heart aches for all the pain she endured and the hell she had to live through for so long. My heart aches for the fact that she was not able to be saved even when she realised that was what she wanted. My heart aches for my cousin and the friends I have also lost to suicide. My heart aches for all the people who experience such unimaginable turmoil that it leads us to consider taking, or indeed take, our own lives.

As for myself, there are a host of mixed emotions and associations (suicide is oh-so complex, especially when so close to the bone). But on the whole, her story has evoked a passion within me to continue within this field, doing the BPD research I’m doing and pursuing a career to try and help people like her – people like me – with everything I have got. 

If, by the end of my own life I have contributed to saving even a single person’s life through this work, my own life will have been worth it. 

P62, I hope you are resting in peace. 

*The participant number of this patient has been changed for confidentiality*

The Disconnect

Dissociation is getting the better of me again. I will try and put my experience into words. 

Dissociation is experienced as a sort of disconnect or detachment from reality that can manifest in a number of ways. Ways I often describe it, based on my on experience, include: 

  • “Spacey”
  • “Out of it”
  • “Loopy”
  • “In a daze”
  • “My brain isn’t working” 

There are different types and levels of dissociation although they can also overlap and change over time. For example, sometimes I dissociate so badly in therapy that I literally cannot see, talk or move – and may go into a panic attack – and need the help of my therapist to bring me back to reality. For me, this is at the rarer end of the spectrum occurring far less often. The more frequent experiences I have of dissociation are what I refer to as a consistent but more “low-level” dissociation. This less intense (although definitely more enduring) form of dissociation is mostly unnoticeable to others, so I can maintain my functional façade despite feeling simultaneously detached from reality. This can be a good thing because at least I am able to manage life in the objective sense, however it can also be extremely challenging – because it makes the stark contrast between my subjective reality versus others’ perceptions of me even more pronounced.  

The two main types of dissociation I struggle with are depersonalisation and derealisation.

Derealisation is a feeling that the external world is unreal. Common experiences I have of this are:

  • Disrupted and distorted visuals – objects appear to change size, my eyes cannot focus, specific objects appear “trippy” especially nature, colours are either muted or intensified, objects zoom in and out, my vision is blurry or foggy.
  • Altered perceptions of sound – sounds are muffled, I can hear words but cannot process what is being said, my brain zooms into one specific sound, or many sounds mush together into a pulsating cacophony of noises which I struggle to discern between.
  • Objects, places or people become more unrecognisable than they usually are – for example I can be with one of my closest friends and find that their face looks distorted or unfamiliar, and scare myself because I cannot relate to them despite our relationship. 
  • The external world feels beyond my reach, often shrouded by a dense fog or separated from me by an impenetrable albeit invisible shield. 
  • Life feels like a movie and I am just a character in it; nothing around me is really real, nothing truly exists.

Depersonalisation occurs when the individual feels a sense of detachment from their self as opposed to the external world, for example:

  • A sense that my body does not belong to me, that I am just eyes or a head with no tangible physical presence.
  • Feeling very light or very heavy, like I am floating, like I am underwater, like I am drifting through life watching it go by but not actually a part of it.
  • Feeling like a ghost, a zombie, ‘dead but alive’.
  • Being unable to differentiate between my physical body and the physical edge or surface of the ground I am walking on or the seat I am sitting on, etc.
  • Being unable to recognise myself in the mirror emotionally despite knowing rationally that I am looking at a reflection of myself – feeling a sense of detachment from my physical self and as though the face/ body I am looking at does not belong to me or is not my own.
  • Being unable to feel sensations or know where in my body different sensations are occurring. Or the sensations I feel become muted or unfamiliar – like they are happening to someone else, not me. Or one limb, for example, can feel foreign and like it doesn’t belong to the rest of my body.
  • I can hear myself speaking and communicating but do not recognise my voice as my own and do not feel as though the words have been produced by my own brain.
  • Actions and thought processes are not in sync, my brain and my body are misaligned and there is a delay in communication between the two.

Some consequences of the dissociation include:

  • Paranoia, because I cannot work out what is real and what is not. This extends to the interpersonal relationships in my life: In being unable to relate to people or the external world, I cannot make sense of where I stand in interactions, how I relate to others or how they relate to me. 
  • There is a chronic hyper-vigilance alongside the utter disconnect; even though the two are seemingly incompatible, that is exactly what it feels like to be me – I am a walking catch 22.
  • Identity disturbance and confusion. I just do not know who I am, nor if I am at all. 
  • Heightened anxiety as a result of the lack of groundedness, which then serves to exascerbate the dissociation, further perpetuating the cycle. 
  • Urges to self-harm, just so that I can feel something tangibly, to show me that I am alive and real.  
  • Social avoidance behaviours, because interacting with people feels exhausting, forced, confusing and overall excruciating. The dissociation feels so obvious to me that I am sure everyone else must be able to see it as well, and have all sorts of judgments about me. Also it just scares me shitless – feeling so trippy and detached – being out in the big unfamiliar world.
  • It impacts my relationships hugely. All the connections in my life feel strained, because connecting requires such effort. I cannot connect enough to have a romantic relationship, nor do I foresee myself ever having children if I cannot connect in the way a child needs.
  • Suicidality. I feel utterly helpless and hopeless, and question the point in being alive in I feel so very dead inside. 

I am sitting on a train having such intrusive thoughts about what the point in life is when “I don’t really exist”, and questioning what is truly real both in my surroundings and within myself. There is so much beauty around me, but it is so far out of my reach and I am unable to access it within my current state and connect to it on an emotional level. It is the most frustrating thing to feel so very far away from a world that I am so desperate to feel a part of.  

To Expose or To Avoid?

I am doing a research assistantship over summer within a mental health team. Every week we have a research team meeting covering a specific area that someone on the floor is working on, or we get a specific training. 

Earlier, my supervisor let us know what the next research team meeting will be focusing on. I will not write exactly what it is here, but as it turns out, we will be discussing a very sensitive topic – one which is close to the bone for me. 

The academic, studious, motivated and rational part of me wants to go to the meeting, because it is a very important topic and the research around it is invaluable. Wearing my “professional” hat, I think it could be interesting and important for me to attend. I am sure I could learn a lot, and it may even help me understand myself and my experiences further. 

On the other hand, I can barely look people in the eye nor regulate my internal response when someone as much as mentions this specific topic. The emotional, fearful, traumatised Borderline me is far too scared to attend; there is no way I can go to the research team meeting if we are discussing what my supervisor told me.

It is too close to the bone for comfort. Anything associated with it has the potential to evoke a strong mental, emotional and bodily reaction in me based on my own past. It is not a straightforward reaction, nor one I am able to control at this stage. I am too vulnerable. I have not worked through it yet in therapy. I do not want to dissociate. Or have a panic attack! I don’t want to become dysregulated in the work environment, in my professional role. There are so many reasons to not go.

However, there is a catch. If I do not go to the meeting, I am worried that my absence will inadvertently draw more attention to me. People will wonder why I am not there. Although not everyone goes to the team meetings every week, most people do, and I have yet to miss a single one. If I miss this one – a particularly sensitive one such as this – I am concerned that people will know exactly why. They will know I am avoiding it; they will know it must be because the topic is something I have had experience of; and they will know that I do not feel able to face it in that capacity… they will probably then doubt my ability as an aspiring psychologist/ researcher/ academic. 

(The fact that a handful of them know I have BPD – or have at least seen some of my old scars – may make it easier for them to do the guesswork, if my absence is noted)

I do not know what I am meant to do. I want to email my supervisor to ask specifically what will come up, and ask if it is okay to skip the meeting that week depending on her answer. However, if I bring it up with her, she will realise why I am asking to skip the meeting and what it means. (She knows I have BPD, she knows a little of my history – it will not take much to put two and two together.)

I do not want anyone to know about it, nor connect me to the topic in any personal way. So I need to not avoid the meeting. And yet, I do not feel able to go to the meeting because of the topic and the reasons above. (My face went red at the mention of it by my supervisor within that five second conversation, and I start panicking at the mere thought.)

I feel stuck. I have been thinking about it for hours. The part of me that catastrophises is saying I should just stay home that day and pretend I am ill – so that I can avoid this whole palaver altogether.  

Overall, Emotion Mind says both DO NOT GO to the meeting and GO to the meeting at the same time, based on the different reasons and emotions above. I don’t even know what my Reasonable Mind is thinking. Either way, there is no middle option – I either go or I do not – and so I am at a loss as to what a Wise Minded decision would be. 

I do not often ask for advice on here, but any thoughts would be much appreciated with this one!

Trauma and The Insight Fallacy

The Insight Fallacy refers to the belief that merely understanding a problem will enable you to solve the problem. As lovely as this would be, it is obviously rarely that simple…

I feel like the Insight Fallacy can be applied to the often unwarranted emotional reactions that people with Borderline Personality Disorder experience.

Much of the time I am hyper aware of a situation, including how irrational I may be being within it, but knowing that on a cognitive level often means fuck all. Equally, knowing that my problem has a cause, or even knowing what that cause is, doesn’t get me much further towards solving it either.

For example, I may be struggling with a perceived rejection, even though there is little evidence supporting my claim. I explain the situation to a friend who tells me I am being ridiculous and tries to get me to think about it in a more reasonable way. She says “you just need to rationalise” as though this is something I have not thought of or tried already.

The problem is, even if I am fully aware that I am being irrational and that my emotional response is totally out of proportion to the perceived threat, it does not calm the emotions. Even when I know why I have reacted the way I have, even when I know it is a pattern for me, and even if I know on one level that it is not even based on hard facts, none of this *knowing* is ample to shift how I feel on a deep and inner level. 

Despite being able to think cognitively about a situation, my emotions often remain out of control and no amount of rationalising can calm them. In fact, knowing that I am reacting in a way that doesn’t fit the situation makes me feel even worse, because irregardless of the awareness, I still cannot seem to shift my gut response and the emotional dysregulation.

People often tell me to “change the way you are thinking”, or “just get some perspective” or “calm yourself down, it’s not the end of the world”.

But the problem is: I KNOW! I know I ‘need’ to do these things, but doing them does not help one bit! I know it is “not the end of the world”, but it still feels like it is so acutely inside of me. I know I know I know. But knowing does fuck all.

This is something I hear people with BPD talk about all too often. Being trapped in a place of adequate (often greater than average) insight, yet remaining suffocated by the strength of the emotional reaction, and not being able to do much about it. 

It is frustrating, it is ironic, and it is exhausting. To be intellectually smart means very little when you have the emotional maturity and skill of a baby, or when your body houses the traumatic emotional memories that remain unresolved to this day. 

It is like my brain is a separate entity from my body; knowing something cognitively and feeling it viscerally are totally different things. It reminds me of a quote by Bessel Van Der Kolk on trauma:

“Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition. It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place. That reset begins in the deep recesses of the brain with its most primitive structures, regions that no cognitive therapy can access. It’s not something you can talk yourself out of.”

I Am One Angry Borderline

Usually, anger is something I struggle with immensely. Either I pent it all up inside of me when actually it is very much justified and in need of being expressed; or, I “blow up” in unhealthy ways over the most seemingly menial things and express my anger inappropriately, usually worsening the circumstances further. I cannot seem to find a balance, and am incredibly all or nothing in how I perceive, express and experience it.

Growing up, anger was around me quite a lot. It was an emotion I perceived as ugly, as scary and dangerous. I tried expressing my anger as a child but was rarely understood. So I learnt to hide my anger and shut myself down, until I didn’t realise I had anything to be angry about because I was so dissociated from it. 

Now, when I get angry and manage to express it, it fills with me guilt. Anger is not an emotion I have ever been allowed to have, and so I feel weak and out of control when I do succumb to it. Furthermore, when I succumb to it, it consumes me and takes me over. It is like all the anger held inside bursts out and a beast as powerful as the hulk is unleashed.

Sometimes nobody sees it, but my body feels the brunt of it. The anger manifests in tension, chronic back/ neck ache, nausea and crippling head and jaw pains. Other times, it escapes out of me in emotional emails, accusatory messages, or sudden bursts of energy directed at anyone around me who rubs me the wrong way.

Most of the time I am terrified of the anger, because I still do not know where to place it that won’t end in disaster. For many years all I knew to do was to take it out on myself. If someone hurt me, I would cut myself to release the pain; if I was wronged, I would abuse substances to calm myself down; if I wasn’t being heard, listened to or respected I would binge or starve myself instead of approaching myself with compassion. Everything that was “your fault” became “my fault”. I was always to blame. I never felt I had the right to stand up for myself, even when others genuinely mistreated me. 

Much of the time my anger toward others seemed to transform into toxic shame about myself.

Today, I have felt levels of anger beyond anything I am used to. The anger is justified – my university fucked up Big Time and I am in exam season – however the way I dealt with it most probably was not ideal. Emails and phone calls later, I have however managed to stand up for myself, state my needs and descriptively but firmly explain that how I have been treated is not okay given the situation.

My jaw aches, my head kills, my entire body is stiff with tension. It has been a hellish day and I am extremely vulnerable and emotional. However, I feel like something has shifted, because you know what? For once I didn’t take my anger out on myself. I didn’t beat myself up or make it my fault when it was not; I didn’t self destruct with any behaviours even though I just wanted to fuck myself up with alcohol; I did not lash out at any one beyond what I genuinely deem to be acceptable given the situation. And I do not feel guilty or shameful for standing up for myself or expressing my anger, either. 

Instead, I feel empowered. The world can go fuck itself, and I am cool with that.

Borderline and Alone

One of the most painful things about having BPD is the chronic, insatiable and infinite loneliness so many of us experience. Some days I feel so lonely that it physically aches, and I can feel claws of emotion inside of me causing me excruciating pain. The visceral sensations that materialise take over my entire body.

These are sensations one cannot put into words; I sometimes refer to it as “Borderline” pain, because it is so typical an experience for those with BPD. I have tried explaining it to others but they have found it hard to understand. Loneliness is one thing; Borderline loneliness is another.

I suppose it is a mixture of yearning and grief, sadness and shame, all rolled in to one. The grief aspect feels pertinent to me, but how can I explain that? I can’t. I haven’t even lost anything. I just never had it to begin with. I fear I will never feel like a whole person, and that it is too late to repair me now – the damage has been done. I am broken.

I feel like a lost puppy separated from its litter or a desperate child searching for her mother amongst a terrifying crowd. I feel like an empty floating lifeless vessel, or a newly born vampire – insatiably thirsty, panting and pacing in anticipation of her first meal. I feel like if I ever were to unleash the full strength of my neediness the world would not be able to support me. I am too much. The loneliness is too big. I am drowning in it.

Trying (and Failing) to Remember

I feel like my body remembers so much more than my brain. Today in therapy, my therapist asked me what my earliest memory is. I do have some memories of when I was little, but I can’t pinpoint what my earliest one is. The only thing I noticed, when she asked that, was how I felt in my body – and how strong those sensations were.

I had been becoming increasingly dissociated, as we talked about my childhood, even though nothing we spoke about was particularly distressing. I felt myself fading from the room – eye contact which was already minimal became totally non-existent, my vision overall narrowed, the air became foggy and my hands seemed to become separate entities from my body. It was like I had lifted slightly off the ground, and I could not differentiate between myself as a separate entity to the chair and the space around me. At the same time, I was heavy, so heavy that if I had let my eyes close, I fear they would have been too heavy to reopen.

Despite the spaciness, I was also experiencing noticeable anxiety; my toes were curled, my left leg bouncing of its own accord, and a nauseated knot had formed in my core. Weirdly, I could feel my heart beating in places that were not my heart, and this made me feel very on edge, as the pounding was overwhelming. I could not just feel it within my core, I could also hear it. The pounding consumed me.

I identify that I was afraid, but I do not know if it was because of the content we were talking about, or as a result of the uncomfortable and intense sensations shooting through my body.

When I tried to think back into my past on a more cognitive level so that I could just get on with it and answer her question, I got so stuck – as I always seem to do. It was like “it” was all trapped inside my body, unable to get out, too intangible for words. The pulsating through my veins continued whilst I remained shrouded in a cloud of dissociation – a paradoxical conflict of the overwhelming presence and simultaneous total absence of “stuff”. Furthermore, I don’t actually know what this “stuff” is. When I try and chase my memories, it is like my brain gets caught on little cogs of empty space, and there is no where to go. I just lose a little bit of time to analysing a blank page instead.

But the thing is, the few memories that I do have are so detailed and raw, so it is not as though everything has been blotted out for good. I just feel like there is a massive wedge between me now and my past, and I need to pierce through a forcefield of sorts in order to retrieve it. I think if I had triggers, like photographs or videos, the memories would come back in an instant. A part of me is desperate to access all these dusty corners of my mind, but there must be another part that is not so keen, or else it wouldn’t be this hard – surely?

I feel cognitively so willing to get started on the trauma-based work, as my therapist is encouraging me to do. But every time we venture anywhere near it, I just get so stuck. I feel willing mentally, but emotionally and physically, my body is not having any of it. It’s highly disconcerting because I am having such a strong reaction to something that is not really there – at least not in my current grasp of reality as I know it. Because of all this, I cannot stop racking my brain trying to get greater insight into my past – even though there is nothing there, and I feel up against a brick wall. It is like trying to piece together a puzzle in the dark.

Also, I am not the product of what one would describe as a highly traumatic childhood, by any means. I know trauma is subjective, and that I am a traumatised individual, but I cannot help doubt myself – it all feels so intangible. This is a huge reason why these memory blocks are so frustrating – because I do not even understand what my brain is trying to shield me from.

So then I start doubting myself and my therapist, and wondering if maybe it is just a natural process that I have forgotten so much. Maybe the reason I do not remember is because I was so young, and most people do not remember much from such an early age. Maybe we have been over-analysing and over-pathologising, and there really is no ‘blockage’ at all. Maybe I am just a human with a fallible memory like any other? It seems impossible to tell, seeing as though all the subjective evidence (in the form of memories) remains so far out of my reach – and that in itself is immensely frustrating.

Mental Health Research Assistant Position!

I have exciting news: I have been offered the position of a research assistant volunteer over the summer months. The research is all related to BPD and the team are at the forefront of the field. It is very exciting, and I am also super relieved because it means I will have structure over the summer months. 

The research is al about BPD, DBT, PTSD and C-PTSD. Specifically I will be helping the team analyse data regarding:

  • Patients’ experiences of DBT and of prolonged exposure for PTSD.
  • Parenting interventions for parents with personality disorders
  • Psychological interventions in inpatient settings

I won’t be able to be part of the team if I’m behaviourally unstable as it wouldn’t be appropriate. So, it is a huge incentive for me to keep doing what I am doing; remaining abstinent from self-harm and using skills to stabilise as much as possible. And all with the hope of being able to ultimately use my experiences to help others in some way.

Ironically, my therapist knows the professor, and it feels very strange that my two worlds (of real-life, professional, responsible psychology student me and in-therapy, vulnerable, struggling, Borderline me) are colliding in this way!

Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Survivor

I read something online recently and it got me thinking. The quote was about abuse survivors, but I think it can be extended to victims of other types of (complex) trauma, too.

The author states that to them, there is no difference between someone being “not obviously pleased” and someone being “obviously displeased”.

Similarly, they note that there is no difference between someone showing “signs of being angry” and someone showing “no signs of not being angry”.

This is something I relate to undoubtedly: If there is no strong and overt evidence to the contrary, I automatically believe the worst case in any situation or scenario.

If someone isn’t directly expressing positivity or warmth towards me, I will jump straight to assuming that there is only something negative and threatening going on. Even if they are being totally neutral in reality, this is what my entire brain and body will believe.

It is not just a cognitive process. It is a visceral, bodily, all-encompassing trauma response – felt on all levels.

So why does this happen? Why is my internal smoke detector set to the absolute highest sensitivity level? Why does it ring constantly in response to even the most negligible of stimuli? (To the point that it often cannot differentiate reality from fiction.)

In line with what the author touched on, I think it goes back to childhood trauma. Some children grow up not knowing when people are going to switch on you and when; not knowing who’s safe or trustworthy; not knowing who the good guys and the bad guys are; not knowing when the good guy is about to become bad again; not knowing who’s going to protect and who’s going to harm.

Some of these children will go on to develop an understanding that the world cannot be trusted; that it is better to fear than to risk trusting; that it is wiser to be safe than sorry; that a lack of overt goodness is a warning sign of inherent badness; and that these beliefs are ones which extend to all manner of relationships.

And whilst once upon a time those beliefs used to serve you and kept you safe from the world, they also kept you far away from it.

Now these beliefs are maladaptive. You have few friends. You spend most of your time alone. Everything triggers you and you’re in a constant state of paranoia and hypervigilance. You feel chronically alone in the world. You struggle immensely with intimacy. You trust no one.

And you are working on it daily, but it is a really tricky place to come back from. When it is all you have ever known, and your brain wiring is all messed up because of what you lived through and how you experienced it. And now with this messed up brain wiring, you have to try reverse the damage. You have to use your faulty brain to repair your faulty brain and it is so very challenging… and also slightly ironic.

Grounding: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

From earlier today, when walking in a dissociative daze and attempting to use skills to bring me back to the present moment –

  • 5 things you see:
    A gnarled tree trunk with moss growing down one side
    Glass on the pavement glistening in the sun
    A white van with a black rotator on top spinning in the wind
    Black pointed gates separating the cemetery from the road
    A sign that says lion-something but depicts an animal that looks more like a tiger
  • 4 things you hear:
    The sound of my shoes clomping
    Cars going past me; louder as they near, quieter as they disappear
    Birds tweeting
    The wind blowing leaves in trees
  • 3 things you can touch:
    The soft lining of my faux-fur coat
    My hand grazing against the brick wall
    The corners of my phone case in my right pocket
  • 2 things you smell:
    Exhaust fumes
    Something fresh like grass
  • 1 thing I taste:
    Remnants of rich goat’s cheese from lunch

Thoughts on Complex Trauma

A recent late night conversation about complex trauma with a close friend went something like this:

Her: Sometimes I feel traumatised and I just don’t get how or why.

Me: I think it’s all complex trauma? It’s so much more intangible.

Her: I literally question whether I was abused when I was really young or something but I’m sure I wasn’t..

Me: Yeah I’ve heard people say that they wish something very tangibly and objectively “bad” had happened that could explain or justify how they feel in the present. But apparently complex trauma is like the hardest to treat, and part of why that is is because it’s so layered and subconscious. And because it’s less tangible, we blame ourselves and invalidate our experiences even more..

Her: Yup. I always want SOMETHING to make the way I feel ‘valid’. But it IS valid.

Me: It is. Like, our current emotional experiences aren’t that way for no reason. We have to remember that. It is all understandable based on our pasts. And our pasts have been frikkin painful.

Her: Yeah we wouldn’t feel this way without a reason. Even if we can’t put it into words. And experiences are also relative..

Me: Exactly! And you know the definition of trauma is so subjective. It makes so much sense. (As in, trauma in itself is defined as a SUBJECTIVE experience.)

Her: I so see that. Guess it goes back to not what happens to you but how you experience it.

Me: What one person finds traumatising may feel negligible to another. Crazy right ?

Her: It is. But makes so much sense.

Me: And because I am so sensitive and so AFFECTED by life I almost feel like some things have been like trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma. Especially relational things. If that makes any sense.

Her: Like trauma because you’re already traumatised.

Me: Yes! And it wouldn’t feel traumatising if not for the original experience etc. But each new experience just reinforces the original one/s. Like with rejectiony stuff, for example.

Her: Exactly. I wouldn’t have found what happened with xxxxx traumatising if I hadn’t already felt traumatised about parent figures or abandonment or WHATEVER it was that traumatised me in the first place.

Overall I am just feeling very relationally traumatised at the moment. It is seeping into every aspect of my life and really impacting me and most likely those around me, too. I feel like this journey is going to take me a life time. Complex trauma really is very complex.

Five Years

Today it is Monday 11th April 2015. Today it is exactly five years since something happened which continues to haunt me today.

I am working on this skill called Dual Awareness because I keep feeling as though I am being sucked back five years into the past and it is very distressing.

I have pushed the world away today in various ways and not really let myself feel what is actually going on for me. But the last few hours things have hit and I am experiencing visceral sensations and high subsequent urges.

Anniversaries of painful events can be extremely challenging. A date and a time represent so much within themselves that they seem to trigger everything else even in the absence of specific tangible stimuli. Then the various types of memories self-perpetuate, and I end up feeling as though I am triggering myself over and over – like this is somehow my fault, again. 

It has gotten to the time of night where my brain just will not shut off and my body refuses to calm itself. I know I have to wait this one out but I feel like I am suffocating within my own body.

Living with trauma (whatever type) is like fighting a losing battle. No matter where you go or how far you try and run or hide, the trauma remains etched into your mind and body, eating you alive from the inside out.