From Bad to Worse

I won’t sugarcoat it. Things are bad between J and I right now. They’ve been precarious for weeks, the dominating theme in my posts, but our relationship took a major hit Monday night. One I’m honestly not sure I even want to repair.

Monday night, I entered therapy in a rocky place. Although the school day had been okay, I had been marinating in shame all weekend, as evidenced by my last post. I knew we were to write the infamous letter that night. It’s been a longstanding issue for four months. I was nervous as hell about how it would go.

A brief summary if you are not familiar, as I don’t feel like linking to previous posts: In July, I asked J if she would be willing to write me a brief 1-2 paragraph letter, to be used as a transitional object when I am struggling to maintain our connection outside of session and battling thoughts like “She is judging me. Things are not okay. I should no go to session.” It was not an easy thing to ask for. J said she would consider it. She did not bring up the topic again until I asked her almost a month later, at which time she told me she would write it for me once she figured out what to say.

Another month and a half passed, and I waited patiently.  Towards the end of September, she told me near the end of session she had decided it would be better for us to write it in session together. I was caught off guard and reluctantly agreed. After our most recent rupture, I called her out on agreeing to it and then changing the parameters of what I was told I’d be getting. She stuck to her guns and said she felt it was best we do it together. At the time, her reasoning was that I would believe that her words were more true if we wrote them together. I took some time to think on it, but decided to give it a chance.

If you’d like to finish this long post right here, it was a disaster. Hooray! Now you are caught up.

The long version is this. She asked if I still wanted to write the letter, and I said yes. She asked me if I’d like to write it on a pad or on my phone.

If you didn’t catch on, she asked if I’d like to write it. As in, she assumed I was doing the writing? I’m not sure why she assumed this, as it was something I’d asked for from her. I immediately felt my heart drop and I knew this was not going to go in a positive direction. I told her I thought she would be writing it. She seemed surprised, but agreed, and asked me to hand her the pad.

I was feeling so uncomfortable, like a young child with too many needs, especially because we had not really mapped out how the letter-writing process would go. I made some sort of statement that I wasn’t sure what to do/say and needed her to start.

J very dramatically rolled her eyes. She smiled, but she still rolled her eyes.

This very much affected me. It’s been an issue in the past and I’ve told J, as recently as three weeks ago, that it is never helpful for her to roll her eyes. It’s a boundary I’ve clearly set and yet here we go again. I called her out on it. She said yes she rolled her eyes, but it wasn’t malicious.

Oh great. Well, it didn’t feel fun. It felt like I asked for some clarity and guidance and her response was to make me feel small and ashamed for that need by rolling her eyes at the ridiculousness of my request.

J asked me what the goal of the letter was. I feel like she should have known the answer to that by now, as I’ve told her multiple times. But fine, I repeated it. To maintain the connection, especially when things feel very dark.

She told me she would write a couple thoughts and then see what I thought. That was fine. She wrote for 10-15 seconds, stopped, and then said “How about I write a line and then you write a line?”

Uh…?

Mind you, I asked her for a letter. It was supposed to be her words. When I was concerned about us writing it together, because I thought it wouldn’t feel genuine if I had to tell her what to say, she assured me I wouldn’t be dictating. And while I suppose this wasn’t dictating, it was something else entirely!

I was confused and quickly growing frustrated. I told her it wasn’t what I wanted from her. She said something about how she wanted this to be in my voice too so I could be a part of my healing process and the letter could be more helpful. Which, now that I’m looking back, is very different from the reasoning she gave me a couple weeks ago (that she wanted me to believe her words were genuine)

I argued that I’ve written myself plenty of letters on this blog in my own words. I have that already. What I wanted was something from her. Something to help me cope when I’m really struggling to connect. She said that if she does that, then I’m relying on her.

Well then why the hell did she agree to doing it in the first place, months ago?!

And also, aren’t I allowed to rely on my therapist a little? Isn’t that why I freaking have one?

When I told my friend this, she balked. Isn’t she familiar with the concept of a transitional object? I don’t know why she’s so resistant to this.

Here’s the thing. If that had been J’s initial response from the very beginning, I could have accepted that. I might have been upset, but I would have understood this as a boundary. We have always been working towards me being able to independently regulate and support myself. I’m good with that.

Where I’m having trouble is that she’s been so inconsistent. First, she agreed to it. Then she changed her mind about how she was willing to participate. Now she’s even changing her reasoning about why it’s important to do it this way.

Additionally, she cannot seem for the life of her to remember why I want this letter. This letter was not meant to be used to regulate all emotions and pull me from every dark place. I was asking her to provide some physical evidence that I could refer to in times of need. I was asking her help me feel connected enough to come to therapy and share the emotions.

Case in point, when I asked her why she ever agreed to this, she told me that she was not really clear initially on why it was I wanted the letter.

However, there’s no way that’s true. I know that when I first asked for this damn letter, I explained to her that I use previous texts she’s sent me to bridge the connection when I’m faltering. If I am holding onto fears of judgement or getting stuck in this idea that I shouldn’t go to therapy because it’s not okay to share my pain, I read them as a reminder that we are okay and I can trust her.

I wasn’t asking her to solve all of my problems with this letter, to pull me out of every emotion.

If it’s really true that she didn’t understand this, then she’s extremely dense. Or she hasn’t been listening.

It really feels as though she isn’t listening at all to me, because she isn’t retaining what I feel to be fairly important things. At this point, I was so frustrated and beginning to shut down. I could literally feel my body tensing, as if it was turning to stone. J echoed that I was disappointed I wasn’t getting what I wanted, and I agreed. She asked me to list evidence that I knew she cared about me.

I did it, and she said something about using those instances as a reminder. I reminded her again (another conversation we just had) that when the connection is broken, it isn’t me forgetting she cares. I’ve told her this, I said. It’s me dealing with that stormcloud of thoughts like I can’t talk about how I feel, she’s judging what I’m saying, she’s annoyed by me. 

J looked at me as if she was hearing all of this for the first time. I said to her, it’s like you really don’t understand the difference. “Well maybe I don’t,” she said. I’m wondering if it was her realizing that for the first time that she’s not grasping the true nature of some of these issues, because I was certainly already aware.

Beyond this, I devolved. Completely and utterly. All the shame came flooding out of my body. I couldn’t bring myself to look at her. I cried. I told her I hated myself, that everything feels like my fault, nothing is ever going to get better, and I’m so fucking tired of doing it. That was all I could keep saying, because it was what I believed.

When she tried to help me see a more positive side, I just felt defiant. She’s lying, I would tell myself. I know these things are true. If they weren’t true, I wouldn’t feel so empty. 

We talked about the shame I felt around our relationship, how I felt sad, angry, confused. That things are different between us and I don’t know how to get back the feelings of safety and comfort. J validated these feelings. She reassured.  She told me it was okay to be angry. It was okay to be sad. When talked about the difficult stuff, she validated “That is awful. That is overwhelming.”

I appreciated her attempt to do this. I’ve asked for validation, a lot. And I thought it would help. Yet, it felt lacking when repeated incessantly without almost any real emotion or follow-up.

Which just makes me sad. When did J stop feeling comforting at all?

At one point, as I was stuck in my self-hate spiral, she said. “Let’s go off track for a second” and then proceeded to remind me that she’d like me to see a psychiatrist. She thinks that me being on medication would reduce the intensity of my emotions.

When she said this, I felt rejected, like I was being passed off. Like I’m too much for her, so she’s trying to lighten her load. I know that isn’t rational, but it was what I thought and felt in the moment.

I have been back and forth about the psychiatrist, mostly because from what I’ve read BPD does not respond to meds. L said those exact words when I mentioned J’s psychiatrist suggestion, and scoffed. She said that while meds will sedate me, it won’t do anything to disrupt my mental processing.

So like I said, the session was an absolute disaster. By the end, I was completely dysregulated and had reverted back into my needy attachment state of apologizing (I don’t even know why? Because I was acting crazy?) and begging her not to abandon me.

Yet, as soon as I was a few hours removed from that room, I was considering not ever going back.

I am so, so, so extremely frustrated and disappointed and disillusioned right now. I am 100% open to admitting that there may be threads of self-sabotage that played into the downfall of our relationship. I can admit that the negative lens I have towards J right now is not helping things.

However.

The fact that L’s facial expressions mirrored mine when I explained this specific situation and the fact that she was troubled by J’s reactions (the eye roll!) tell me that my feelings have their validity. She told me that this is not simply me going full on BPD. I have a right to be upset.

To wit, when I said I have a right to an apology for 1. rolling her eyes again despite my boundary and 2. handling this whole letter situation poorly (changing it up and not communicating about it), L fully agreed.

I have been fighting the end of my relationship with J. Despite all of the strife, I really have come to have such an affection for her. I simultaneously dread going to my sessions and don’t want to let her go. I keep thinking if I can just say the right things, she will understand. If I can just act a certain way, broach a certain kind of acceptance, her response will remind me things are okay. I will feel safe. If I can find the right strategy to interact with her, we will get back on track.

But really, is that my job? Shouldn’t she be trying to reach me, instead of the other way around?

L said some things today that make me consider this more. A month ago, she was advocating for me to stick with J, figure things out and repair. Today, she told me that sometimes we outgrow relationships and it doesn’t have to viewed as a failure to let it come to a natural ending. She told me that if our interactions are consistently sending me down a bad path, it’s no longer helpful.

She’s not wrong about that last part. This relationship is tearing me apart emotionally.

Yet, I still know she cares. She is so very clearly trying. She wants desperately for me to recognize the positive, and is starting to voice her understanding that sometimes I really just can’t. I’m blocked from it, and no amount of encouraging me to list my strengths or apologize to myself is going to fix that.

I think that is the hardest part. To know that she really does care and want to help, but isn’t reaching me. That there’s a level of misattunement acting as a barrier between us, which neither of us seems to know how to overcome.

She does not mean to hurt me, and yet she keeps hurting me. Again and again.

As I type that, part of me fights back. I’m hurting me. This is all my fault. I’ve broken her. Turned her against me. I was too much. My BPD ruined another relationship. 

I told L that I’m beginning to wonder if J actually cares so much that it’s inhibiting her ability to see our relationship clearly. She’s not referring me out, she’s still promising to stay, and saying we will work on x, y, and z. L said it’s probably frustrating for J to watch me not improving but not know what to do.

And I do. I wonder, what does J really think? She’s admitted to feeling helpless, she’s admitting to desperately needing me to know that she means well and wants to help me.

Still, I feel helpless and don’t know what to do. J says it is a safe place, but she is not really showing me it is a safe place. The atmosphere is tense and uncomfortable, perhaps for both of us. But I am not the one with the burden of easing that discomfort. She is.

I feel that we are heading to our end. But still I fight it. I hope for change. I don’t know how I would gather the strength to walk away. It feels scary and heartbreaking.

L and I decided I could give it a little more time for now. See where things go. That’s if I don’t cancel my next session with J.

Then there’s the other small thing to consider.

When I first met with L about a month ago, I didn’t expect to like her as much as I did. I made the appointment with the firm intention that we would meet for 3-5 sessions and then go our separate ways. She was there to talk about J with me. That was her role.

Silly, silly me.

Before I met L, I thought about what seeing a second therapist might look like. I considered how I might structure our conversations and tried to tolerate the idea that talking to her would feel different than it would talking to J. I assumed different would mean bad.

In all of my imaginings of how things would go, I just imagined myself feeling neutral during the whole thing. Going in, talking, leaving. I seem to have conveniently forgotten that I am extremely emotion-prone individual, and that me interacting people with even a bit of vulnerability and getting validation leads to intense attachment.

I like L a lot so far. She said some really kind things about how I’m a “beautiful human” with so much insight. And I’ve said elsewhere that I love the way she phrases things. She so perfectly describes my different feelings and behaviors in a way that shows me she’s listened to me and genuinely comprehends what I’ve said.

I also like that she is a lot more direct. She’s unafraid to address things and is quite attuned to my body language. For example, today when she asked me about the self-harm, she then immediately wanted to know why I get “fidgety and stop looking at her” when she brings it up. She pushed me, and so we discussed it. It was helpful that she noticed and checked in.

She’s been trained in personality disorders. More than J. That much is very clear. She has a more intricate knowledge of my experience and asks good questions. I think that’s made me more comfortable in sharing some of my borderline side, the stuff I’m not being as open about with J.

So here we are.

I’ve had 4 sessions with her. The first two sessions, we followed the pattern I expected. We talked about J, with a little bit of the BPD stuff mixed in there. Then last week, we diverted off the topic of J fairly quickly and started talking about other things. Socialization, for one. She has already given me some good strategies to combat self-harm and self-punishment urges. L was saying that in the future, she wants to work on modify the words I say to myself in social interactions to break the paralyzing anxiety and increase my confidence.

I laughed. Because this was supposed to be short term. I verbalized that. “Well, I plan on riding this thing until the wheels fall off,” she said.

This felt like a relief, but also a potential concern. Shouldn’t I not see two therapists ethically? That was always my understanding. Obviously when it was short-term, I didn’t worry. But long-term? L hesitated and admitted that generally that can be true. Somehow, despite that we settled on me seeing her every 2 weeks for now and re-evaluating later.

I feel kind of weird about that, especially because J has no clue about L and I’m not feeling any type of desire to tell her right now. But I liked the idea of having at least one fulfilling therapy relationship while I kept working at a resolution with J.

Plus, to reiterate, I’m already becoming attached.

She has reminded me that she is flawed, and I am super aware of this. I know that part of my feelings towards her are coming from a honeymoon period of attachment and because, compared to J, it feels so wonderful to be heard. I know that sooner or later she’s going to piss me off.

Additionally, L has yet to witness any of the crazy. Unlike J, who has watched me fall apart and sob like a lunatic more than I can count, I keep myself composed with L. I don’t know how it would feel to show true emotion. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet, to be that vulnerable with her.

I am so torn. J knows me intricately and I know her, at least as a therapist. There’s a familiarity there that would take so much time to replicate with L.

I don’t want to give up J, I don’t want to exchange her for a new therapist, I’m not ready to give my newfound resource L up either. Which has created quite the quandary for me. I know if we continue this I have to tell J eventually, because the two could in theory coordinate care, but that’s only if I really plan to keep seeing J.

Ugh.

I hate this. I really fucking hate this.

For those of you reading who may want to comment, please be mindful of your choice of words. I am devastated at the idea of losing J, torn over this new relationship with L, and just generally feeling quite confused and overwhelmed. I know all of my communications with J are not the most effective, nor are all of my decisions here. But I am trying my best and could not have forseen a few months ago that this was where I would end up. 

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I See Myself In Them

Last week at work, I was sitting in my office attempting to be productive when I heard the teacher from across the hall enter my colleagues side of the room. She came over to talk about one of our third grade students, who has been having a hard time behaviorally as of late and the teacher is concerned. Or rather, she’s frustrated.

I mean she’s in our behavior disability room, so one would think this ebb and flow in behavior would be expected, but whatever.

Our office is separated by a foldable wall, so unless I fire up my noise machine I can pretty much hear everything that’s being said. Which, on that morning, was a real shame for me, considering they were talking about borderline personality disorder.

My colleague made mention that this third grade student has borderline traits. She talked a little bit about what that meant, using lovely words like “manipulative”, and painting a grim picture of the student’s future. Her tone wasn’t malicious. She was just stating her beliefs based on experience of working with borderline parents in the past.

If they were even diagnosed. Maybe she just assumed they were borderline, since we were also happy to casually lob a very significant term that carries ample stigma in the direction of a 9 year old who can’t even be diagnosed with the disorder because she is in fact only 9.

I’m sure she didn’t intend her information to come across as stigmatizing as it did. I’m sure no one else even realized how stigmatizing what she said was. You know, since the disorder is just a term for them, and not a reality.

When I heard this, all I could think of was this teacher going home and looking up BPD. She’d read the diagnostic criteria maybe, but likely what she’d end up seeing would be the media-targeted misrepresentation and gruesome statistics associated with my disordered world.

Which of course wouldn’t help her perception of that third grade girl.

Before I could think better of it, I jumped to my feet and walked over to insert myself into the conversation. I explained what BPD can feel like using less pejorative language, talking about the emotions and the experience of the person.

I don’t know why I even bothered, honestly. But I was frustrated. My colleague was making it seem like this was a purely genetic disorder that would swallow our student whole and I wanted the teacher to understand 1. The lens our student is probably seeing these situations through and 2. BPD is also incredibly environmental and not necessarily prescriptive of a terrible future.

Again, if the student even has that. She is 9, after all. Have I mentioned that?

“It all sounds very selfish,” the teacher said and I could have facepalmed right then and there. (When I told this to L, she scoffed. “Yes, it’s very selfish to be living in angst all the time as you try not to upset other people.” Thank you, L.)

I also happen to think it’s selfish to frame your student as a manipulative and devious young girl as a way to fit the narrative you’re already telling yourself instead of actually trying to see her as a sweet and clever kid who is separate from her ineffective behaviors that are rooted pretty logically in a difficult upbringing, but whatever.

I could go on, but I think you see the point.

I ended up going back to my side of the office in defeat. For a little while, I sat there listening to the conversation go on, paralyzed from doing anything else. Knowing what they were saying, as painful as it was, was better than not knowing. Or at least this is what I told myself.

What would they think if they knew I had BPD too? Would they be surprised? Would they think differently of me? Would it shut their mouths about this girl?

Of course, I did not and would never share my diagnosis with them. That’s a recipe for disaster. The point is, the ignorance of people, especially those in the mental health field, astounds me. You may remember I had a similar experience like this last year. I thought I’d escaped from that in this district, but here we are.

It’s always from people that I feel like should know better. People, like my colleague, who are smart and caring and empathetic. This woman knows so much about how to help people, and she’s so good with the damn kids. Still, she’s got misperceptions of what it means to exist in my world. Her skewed belief and very stereotypic description of BPD reminds me why so many of us keep quiet. This is what they think of us.

I just don’t know how it was helpful to use the term at all. I really don’t. It saddens me. We are a school, we are not a mental health facility. Talk about the behaviors. Talk about her symptoms. Treat her by addressing those things. Don’t assign her a label of a disorder that fits her more like an oversized mitten than a glove, obscuring her unique strengths and situation.

Ugh.

They went on for awhile longer, while I stewed on the other side of the room, about ready to jump out of my own skin. In a frenzy, I texted J and asked for advice. I was desperate and alone in my pain, I just needed an ally in the battle.

She texted back awhile later. “That’s so hard. Though hearing those terms are hurtful, it may be helpful to remind yourself, first, that they are not talking about you, and second, that you have been growing your awareness of your own feelings, thoughts, and actions for a long time now. This wouldn’t bother you at all if you didn’t have the awareness you do! Advocate for your students and just take of yourself. Take plenty of breaks today.”

It was a completely well thought out response that made me feel heard, accepted, and cared for. For all my doubts about J, she can really come through when I need her.

I returned to that text repeatedly throughout the day and have discussed it with her since. Because as painful as that experience was in isolation, it also drove home another series of doubts I’ve been dealing with.

I work with kids that have various needs. I am not a trained counselor, but I have ended up in a role that involves service delivery through lunch groups and individual counseling sessions. It’s a role I take very seriously, as I try to build me repertoire of interventions so that I can be effective in helping them.

The issue I keep coming back to is that I see a lot of myself in my students. I have a young boy who struggles so deeply with high emotionality that impacts his ability to make friends. There’s a young girl with similar issues, who can leave a situation so confused as to how it went wrong. I have another student who has a harsh internal narrative that ranks up with mine in terms of cruelty. His work refusal and difficulty socially is rooted in a belief he has that he is not good enough.

Sound familiar?

These kids come to me unable to identify their emotions, unable to select tools to regulate to a calm emotional state. They struggle to see other people’s perspectives. They struggle to resolve conflicts with friends. Some of them struggle even to build those friendships.

When I see them, I remember the sensitive kid I was and the sullen teenager I became, and it’s a future I don’t wish for any of them. I want so badly to make the difference for them that an adult in school could have made for me if given the opportunity. I feel the pressure of being good enough for them.

Then I question, how can I help these kids if I can’t even help myself? Worse, I wonder if my continued struggles despite years of hard work with an actual trained professional signify that the situation is in fact hopeless for them, since I haven’t grown either. These are the thoughts that send me into a tailspin of defeatedness and darkness.

J and I delved into this during my last session. She reminded me that me helping them and me helping me are separated by an important thing: objectivity. The lens through which we view own situations is muddied by our personal biases, whereas with my students I can see their problems from a clearer viewpoint.

Plus, I have an advantage of time. Kids at their age view most things in a concrete, egocentric sense; it’s hard for them to pick apart their struggle with a friend and see the underlying intentions of a peer or how their environment intercedes. I am older, and I see the abstract pieces the way they might not be able to without a little support.

This whole time, I’ve assumed my diagnoses were working against my ability to help these kids. And in some ways, it is. The anxiety that makes me freeze up in the moment, forgetting where I should go next in the conversation. The self-doubt that makes me question whether my response to their problem is the right one. The trouble with boundary-setting, which can impact my group management. The shame that tells me bad counselor, you need to step from them and instead you are a failure.

But.

Yes, there’s another side to it too, and it’s coming into view.

My diagnoses make me empathetic. Whereas I’ve noticed others are so quick to dismiss another student’s problems, to call them manipulative or dramatic or stubborn, I have an easier time reading their pain. I see the anxiety, inability to communicate, the sadness, the frustration, that’s fueling their challenging behavior. I see it clearly, even if I don’t know what to do with it in the moment.

For that reason, I always validate their experience. I think that’s so important as someone who often felt my feelings were dismissed because they didn’t fit how they should be in the situation. I will always say something to the tune of I know that’s frustrating. I understand you don’t want to do this. I see why you’d like it to be another way.

We may then have to talk about the fact that things won’t be the way they want, that they may still be hard, but I always try to give them a moment to know that I’ve truly seen their perspective. Empathy. It’s helpful not to feel alone. I am their ally.

I also want to believe while I do see some of myself in the struggles of these kids, I also also see  myself in their persistence and their silliness. It helps give me hope for how they can grow.

And while obviously the interventions that I’m learning as an adult won’t mirror what I teach them, and our situations are identical, perhaps there’s value in examining some of my own experiences as I try to relate to them in a way that’s meaningful.

For example, for my young boy with the friendship troubles, I can consider what I might have found it most helpful to hear as I’ve strived to build my own relationships. What skills have I needed to learn? Perhaps I can begin there.

Or for that third grade girl. What does she need most? She needs to see that others withstand her storm. She needs to learn how to cultivate her own healthy sense of connection with others while also enhancing her ability to be there for herself. She needs a new way to categorize her experiences in the world beyond just black or white.

For me, this has meant learning to tolerate the things I don’t like. It’s about identifying my emotion emotions. It has included systematically deconstructing my negative beliefs and trying to replace it with an accumulation of positive thoughts and supportive measures. This has meant learning how to look at things from a bigger picture, to play the role of detective finding evidence to refute my beliefs that a situation was all good or all bad.

Maybe these are things that could help our girl? This could be the time to advocate. Despite my bias, my view my have it’s own type of clarity here.

If I am going to chide this teacher and my colleague for talking about my student in a way that just disadvantages her by focusing too much on the same, perhaps I should also chide me for doing the same with myself because of my own diagnosis.

BPD in the work world. It’s a challenge, every damn day, but maybe it instills me with a type of empathy and ability to connect that could end up being the foundation of a good counselor with some time and patience.

Maybe.

Shame and Vulnerability

At the beginning of the school year, a continuing education magazine ended up in my mailbox at work. In it was a coupon to view an hour long talk of Brené Brown’s online for free. I cut it out and let it sit in my desk for almost two months. But it was about to expire, so I decided (finally) that today was the day to watch it.

I’ve heard the name Brené Brown before, mostly from other bloggers who talk about her books. Her work had always intrigued me, but I hadn’t delved into any of it until today. After I watched this first course, I ended up watching her two TED talks.

Might I say, she’s quite the game changer.

I have written repeatedly about this distinct feeling I have that I am fundamentally flawed, destined for nothing beyond being alone and a failure. I call it a core belief, because it is. That feeling dominates me on my darkest days, and it has for some time. I’ve always thought this feelings was a figment of my BPD, which I guess is kind of circular logic.

Turns out, I have a different monster to blame.

According to Brené Brown, that feeling I have? It’s shame. Shame is the experience that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It calls into question our ability to make connections. Shame disconnects us from the world.

Shame, I learned, is different from guilt. Guilt is a focus on behavior. It’s the recognition that “I did something bad.” Shame is a focus on self. It’s what is for me a very common feeling that “I am bad.” In her words, it drives the tirade of “I am not good enough” that has played like a broken record in my head for over a decade.

When Brené Brown described shame, she used the word gremlin to describe it, which is as close of a description as I could ever imagine to something I’ve been describing in my blog for months.

I see it now very clearly. The minions.

The minions in my head are operated by shame.  Every time I take a risk, reach out for help, try to make a connection, the voices that come to the surface do so in a way that remind me I am undeserving. Undeserving of success. Undeserving of friendship. Undeserving of compassion.

By far my favorite part of Brené’s talk was when she described her own experience with this phenomenon. She’d been devastated when her husband didn’t make a big deal of her birthday, when he knew birthdays were important to her.

The outcome of that story was that when she went to couples therapy a few days later and relayed her pain to her therapist, the therapist asked her if she’d asked him to make a big deal?

No, she hadn’t. But he knew what it meant to her, she reasoned to the therapist. If she asked, it wouldn’t have been as special, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

As she told her story, I nodded along with it, fully on her side.

Her therapist’s response? “Maybe you don’t think you’re worth it if you can’t ask him”

Well, fuck.

I often believe if I have to ask for something from someone, it diminishes the value of what I’ve asked for. If I have to ask for reassurance, it doesn’t count. If I have to ask for someone to show they care, to validate, it’s not worth it. It’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. 

There I sit and wait for validation that’s been offered spontaneously without me manipulating it because I assume the other person being willing to volunteer it is an indicator of my worth. I’m trying to use other’s actions to manufacture something that’s supposed to be generated from within myself.

I don’t believe in my own worth enough, so I can’t ask for validation or care or reassurance without a hell of a lot of discomfort following.

I think on some level I knew this, but to hear it described that way was very enlightening.

For example, I’m literally sitting in therapy half the time thinking that I’m not even worth her time or mine. I shouldn’t bother her with my stuff. That’s shame talking. Shame is inhibiting my ability to participate in therapy, to improve my life, because I don’t even feel like I can ask for help from a person whose entire job centers on helping people. I don’t feel like I’m worthy of support or capable of growth.

Maybe this is part of the reason I’m feeling so stuck?

As a follow up thought, I’m now wondering if the circle of shame is also what causes my sense of connection to slip away so quickly in someone’s absence. We might connect in the moment, but I know deep down that I’m unlovable and that I’m not worthy of their sustained connection, so I don’t trust it. I can’t imagine a universe in which I would be continuously deserving of someone’s love or care.

I also think this is really important because we’ve discussed in therapy lately that socialization needs to be a big priority. We’ve discussed that I generally feel empty right now and want to make some more meaningful connections.

The title of the first talk I watched was called Shame Shields. Brené stated that we deal with shame by using one of three shields: We move away, hiding our shame with secrets and withdrawing. We move towards by trying to please others as a way to squash shame. Or we move against shame by using anger to spark more shame in others.

I’m partial to one of the first two. Either burying myself in my shame through self-punishing methods or trying to build the other person up in a manner of getting them to overlook my shameful self. To overlook that I’m a bad friend or bad colleague or bad client.

If I want to make connections, real connections, hiding behind those shields is not going to be particularly useful for the cause.

So what will?

Brené went on to state that the way to combat shame is with vulnerability. In her research, she found that people who felt worthiness were not only willing to embrace vulnerability, they felt it necessary. They told the stories of themselves to the world, warts and all.

Shit. I wanted to stop listening right there. I like guarantees. I like being prepared and knowing exactly how things are going to work out. I thrive on it. Vulnerability is the exactly opposite of that. It’s flinging yourself into relationships and situations not knowing how it’s going to end. That sounds terrible. It sounds excruciating.

So yeah, I wanted to just turn it off and pretend that what she had to say was a falsehood. Tell me how to make connections without having to feel so damn exposed all the time.

But then she said that we humans have a tendency to numb vulnerability. We numb those painful feelings by eating and spending and whatever other vices we have.

Wow. I feel called out.

Considering I feel everything at the maximum level of intensity, of course I’ve been suppressing the negative feelings. They fucking suck.

Plus, you wouldn’t think that the answer to how to get in control of your life would be to accept that feeling out of control is necessary sometimes.

Brown argues that we can’t numb the pain without numbing the joy. I can’t suppress the imperfect parts of me without suppressing the good parts too. Part of me learning to interact with and build strong relationships with people will be discovering this “authentic” self of mine and communicating it freely to others instead of hiding behind those shields, hoping that they don’t see my shame.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of worthiness, love, belonging. It’s the birthplace of creativity and change.”

I want to feel worthy. I want to have a sense of belonging and love in my life. I still have these fleeting hopes of a life with a husband and kids, a set of close friends and me being a functional part of my community.

Which means that…maybe I’m going to have to learn to start taking more risks and investing in relationships with people while simultaneously tolerating and even respecting my imperfections?

There was another quote of hers that really stuck with me.“It’s seductive to stand outside the arena and think, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and perfect.”

We’ve always been working for this, but it’s almost like I’ve still been using therapy as a method of completely eliminating my imperfections. It hasn’t worked, no surprise. She’s been telling me since day 1 that you can’t be perfect, but I’m only ever half entertaining that notion. Part of me is always still pushing, because if I’m perfect, I don’t have to be vulnerable.

But no, I have to start making these changes now and practicing vulnerability in relationships, learning to tolerate the unknown. I can’t keep putting it off, waiting until I reach a certain threshold of “good” or “healed” before I feel ready. Because I’ll never feel ready.

Vulnerability means maybe we need to talk more about my shame and it’s origins? Naming the feeling as it occurs, dissecting the thoughts, identifying their triggers. Talking about that in the context of social interactions and normalizing the feelings.

I’ve already asked for repeated encouragement and assurance from her in helping me be more vulnerable, which may not be the point, but it seems like lately the second I try to say anything vulnerable, I end up diverting to safer topics before I can stop myself. Brené Brown did say those who don’t about shame have the most of it, and that’s certainly true here.

I wonder if maybe using this language will help support that journey. I wonder if I can truly let go and let myself embrace vulnerability

I’m afraid of this because being honest about the same means letting out more of the crazy and she’s seen more than enough of that.

I’m afraid of this, because I’m afraid of shame consuming me. Brené spoke about these shame conversations being like an exploration into some great swamplands. The purpose isn’t to go there and set up camp, it’s to explore, become more familiar with the territory, and then return home. Talking about shame is like quicksand and I’ve found once I enter that territory it’s hard to escape. You’ll find on our exploration that I’ve got a whole freaking village set up with the time I’ve spent there.

Shame has had a place in my life for so long now, what would it mean to give in to vulnerability? To let it exist? Would I see that increased connection that Brené Brown promised? Or would it just be too painful to tolerate?

I’m not sure which one is more terrifying.

 

Confronting Anger

So to save you a lot of time and energy, let me just start off by saying that things are okay between J and I right now. Or at least, they are moving towards okay.

If you want to read the rest, here’s a recap of my two sessions from Thursday.

I met with L in the afternoon after I got off of work. We talked about what had occurred in my sessions with J over the last couple weeks. L was pretty awesome. When I explain my perspective of a situation, she does a very nice job of validating where I was coming from and re-explaining it in a way that both confirms her understanding of what I’m saying and also assures me I’ve been heard. She also can fit some of my actions into the frame of my disorder in a way that doesn’t make me feel pathologized, which is appreciated. L is very direct and the way she phrased some things just made me laugh.

Also, as an aside, she asked me immediately about the self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Literally it was the first thing out of her mouth after hello.

Anyway, L and I talked about what I wanted from J. For me, the biggest piece was that I needed J to understand my difficulty holding onto the security of our relationship and that she would be willing to give me that continued reassurance. L thought that was reasonable. She said that wherever J might think I should with trusting her and being able to reassure myself, I am where I am, and that’s where J needs to meet me. L told me that it was really important to see if J could do that. She gave me some advice about how to open my session and things that I could say to J if I felt like I was being invalidated/misunderstood.

I also gave L the artwork to see. She told me it was incredible. She said it really highlighted everything going on inside my head. Her reaction made me feel warm and validated.

It was a good session. L seems to be really attuned to me so far and that’s a nice thing to experience. We made another appointment for next week, to follow up on the situation with J.

I’m already feeling that attachment to L, which is worrisome, because this cannot be a long-term relationship if things pan out with J.

I left and went to my next session. When I went into J’s office, I was a bundle of nerves. L had told me the answer to J’s first question had to be honest. I couldn’t divert or minimize my feelings. So when J asked how I was, I told her I was very nervous about how the conversation would go.

She had a little bowl of candy on her side table, so I took one and started talking about Halloween. Then talking about the girls. She chatted with me. After a few minutes, I got quiet. “I’m stalling,” I admitted. “I know that,” she said.

Then I ventured into the scary part. I told her all the reasons I was angry. While I did, I stayed incredible calm and even managed to look her into the eye. I went through my list bit by bit, told her how each experience made me feel and what I was thinking. J sat quietly and listened. She never once tried to interrupt. I liked that.

Within this, I spoke a lot about the fact that it’s frustrating to me when it feels like she doesn’t understand my lack of emotional constancy. That she seems surprised that the relationship continues to be an issue. I told her I know that after almost 2.5 years, it might seem weird to her that I can still have doubts, but I do. I struggle to hold that connection between our sessions.

So when J finally went to ask a question, she wanted to know more about that.

I tried really hard to convey to J what it feels like to me in between sessions and how the trust can just slip away to be replaced by doubt. We talked about what the specific doubts were, how I may know that she cares and wants to help me, but I may doubt her ability to help, or think that she’s judging me.

She asked, those positive pieces of evidence that I care and want to help you aren’t enough to challenge those doubts? I told her no, and she accepted that.

At this point, I handed her the artwork. I told her that while she and I could have a good session, all of the negative thoughts will still be in my head. I told her that’s why I asked for the letter. She studied my artwork and told me it was very powerful. She told me it gave her a better idea of what I experience. “You’re trying to fight this all the time,” she said and I nodded.

I really emphasized the importance of the validation and reassurance. I explained to her that those little phrases that I’ve written down for her before (e.g. “I’m still here” or “It’s important to talk about these things”) helped me feel the encouragement to talk about the topics that feel shameful and require a certain amount of vulnerability.

J wanted to know if her saying these reassuring things would actually make me believe that they were true. I told her I wasn’t sure, but that they would keep me engaged enough to participate in therapy. She accepted that too.

At some point, J asked me to tell her about times where her responses to my issues or emotions had been helpful. I shared that when we had resolved our issues from the summer rupture, that was when I felt the most heard and understood. I had really felt things were taking a positive step.

Which was why when, during our resolution, she asked me to tell her how she could better show that she understood my severe pain and then turned around and questioned why I needed her to understood, I was confused and frustrated.

I shared this part too and J seemed to grasp what I was saying.

As we were talking about the feelings associated with her reaction to my post, I decided almost spontaneously that it would be better if I didn’t share posts with J that concerned our relationship via text. It seemed like I’ve done so a couple times now and there’s a lot of risk in how not being understood will impact me. J agreed. We agreed that if I’d like to send her occasional posts about other topics, this was still okay. Although I don’t know if I’ll feel comfortable with that for awhile.

I told J that I felt stuck and I asked her if she did too. She admitted that she did a little bit, and seemed to agree that there was a lot of us saying the same things to each other. I suggested that I’d felt a lot of help from using the DBT book to break down specific situations and could we do that again?

J liked that idea. So we decided we could use it to help me find alternative ways to handle past interactions that I’m dwelling on or to prepare for future interactions that I’m anxious about. She reminded me that DBT is a lot so it would be good for us to keep practicing.

We decided that we are going to make the socialization piece a big priority. Which is funny, because when I was with L, that was something she wanted to talk about next week, even just briefly, if I was interested in doing that.

I told J that I appreciated her not immediately just telling me why she reacted the way she did in those situations that had angered me. But now I wanted to know what her opinion was. J reiterated that of course she has good intentions. She’s been trying to get me to see that, and that’s why she thinks she’s been so insistent and defensive. When I’m upset with her, she so badly wants me to know in that moment she hasn’t meant to hurt me.

“I was trying to help and I made it worse,” she told me, which was honestly what I’ve been waiting to hear this whole time. J told me she’d be more mindful of doing that in the future. I told her it’s okay to tell me her perspective, but I just can’t have it be the first type of thing I hear or I withdraw.

J told me it is really helpful for her when I’ve written things down like I had on Thursday, because then I can speak about my feelings with much more clarity. “It helps me understand where you’re coming from and see how our interactions have…”

She paused. “Impacted me?” I finished for her.

“Exactly,” she said. Thank you L, because I’d recycled that term from her.

At the end of our session, I asked her for a resolution with the letter situation. That was not an easy thing to do, but I did it. I couldn’t bare to let it get buried again. She said (and almost looked nervous) that she’d really like to do it together. She said that she knew it was different than what she’d initially agreed to, and she understood where my frustration came from, but that she had a lot of trouble coming up with the “right” words on her own. She wanted this letter to be helpful for me.

I tried to argue that if I had to give her the words to say, I wouldn’t be able to know that they were genuine. J responded by saying that I wouldn’t be giving her the words, it would be a collaborative process. I’m not dictating for her.

I don’t know what the hell that means. It was slightly frustrating and I said I wanted to think about if I could accept the terms she was offering. With some time, I’ve decided that I think I will try it. Because as uncomfortable as the thought of doing it together makes me feel, I’m willing to admit that perhaps it can be a connecting experience. Perhaps I could end up with something very helpful for me.

I owe it to myself to give it a chance, I think.

All things considered, I think this was a pretty solid session. There are so, so, so many ways things could have gone off the rails, but J was receptive to everything I had to say and didn’t dismiss my emotions. She listened. She validated. We made some plans. I didn’t leave a dysregulated mess, which is a huge win.

There are still doubts. I still don’t feel 100% ready to trust her. But I feel better about our relationship moving forward. I felt some semblance of safety in her office that hadn’t been present in weeks.

I think we have some renewed strength in our connection. I’ll take that for now.

 

The BPD in Me

How often do those of you with Borderline Personality Disorder (or any other disorder!) use the actual phrase in conversation with real people in your lives?

As often as I tackle the topic of BPD on my blog, I am generally not very open about it with those I interact with face-to-face. I’ve used the actual diagnosis in conversation with my parents and a few friends, but I discuss it seldom. As it passes my lips, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the bitterness of words that are so stigmatized in our society. I often cringe immediately once I’ve said it, because I know what other people believe about BPD and I fear judgment.

On the rare occasion I have discussed it, it was often because I was trying to explain its meaning in my life. I was trying to take that demonized diagnosis and paint a picture of how it has colored my thoughts, my feelings, my actions. I was trying to put it in perspective for another person who was bewildered by my extreme mood, trying to educate a friend, or trying to quell someone’s anger after a regretful action on my part.

The problem is, I struggle to articulate further what it means beyond reading the DSM criteria verbatim. When I first started blogging, I published a number of posts that reflected upon how each of the nine borderline personality disorder criteria applied to me. I did this during a time where I was still learning about which parts of my identity were mine alone and which parts perhaps that of my disorder. It was useful, but those posts were expansive, and I haven’t looked at them in many months.

I’m very much in a phase of making everything “comprehensive” right now. Organizing the information in a way that communicates it most effectively. This is what I want to do with my disorder. I want to to highlight where the BPD exists within me, so that the next time I try to explain it someone maybe I can do it in a way that really gives justice to my experience.

The BPD in me comes out through intense emotions that cycle up and down at the drop of a hat, from the highest of high to the lowest of low. I feel my feelings at the extreme, even the positive ones. When I feel well, I am excitable, motivated, and have hope for my future. I feel productive and proud of myself for the work that I am doing. I can look back at the past and feel empathy for myself and the mistakes I’ve made, and even begin towards acceptance.

Unfortunately, I am triggered easily, by very trivial matters that wouldn’t upset other people: a small mistake at work, a perceived slight from a friend, or anything that might disrupt my routine. When that happens, my world plummets. I’ve seen the feelings described this way “grief instead of sadness, humiliation instead of embarrassment, rage instead of annoyance and panic instead of nervousness.” That is the truth. I don’t get just a dose of the feeling, I get it all, turned up to full volume.

The BPD in me takes those emotions and projects them into my perceptions of myself and others. The same way my feelings are extreme, so are my thoughts. If I’m not careful, I will paint my whole world into black and white, a series of all or nothing.

Usually, I’m at the negative end of the extreme, because the voice in my head is so harsh and so cruel. It calls me names and refuses to give me any credit for my success. I’m unlovable. I’m a loser. I’m “less than” everyone else. I’m a failure. I deserve to be punished. The good things are external, specific, and unstable; I see them, but I assume they are a short-lived manifestation of luck. The negative is internal, global, and stable. That is, it’s my fault, it will be my fault for every situation, and this will never change. I treat myself worse than anyone could ever treat me.

Because of of the BPD in me, sometimes I’m not sure what is the truth and what is not. So I tend to stick to the negative assumptions, so that if they end up being true, I’m not disappointed.

I know this is a fallacy, but it feels safer.

My BPD causes me to have trouble trusting anyone. In truth, the only people I trust not to leave are my parents. Everyone else? I assume you are going to leave and I assume it’s because of me. My flaws. My wrongdoings. My insecurities. You need to remember that I’ve had many friendships end before you, and I played a large role in it. So when you’re trying to tell me things are fine, I’m remembering the pain of those losses instead of listening to you. I’m not hearing your reassurance, especially not at first. You may need to reassure me, over and over, that you aren’t going anywhere. Eventually, maybe it will stick.

Of course, I hate to ask you directly for your reassurance. If I have to ask, then how do I know you really wanted to give it and didn’t just do so out of obligation? No, the BPD in me can’t accept your validation of our relationship unless you offer it freely, so that I can be sure it’s genuine. The BPD in me expects you to be attuned to that need at all times, to magically know when I need your reassurance. The voice is there, telling me that if you cared, you’d know and you’d ask.

Even when you do reassure me, even when you do so wonderfully, I’ll think I’m a burden for needing your support. In general, the BPD in me makes me hate myself for having needs at all. I don’t know how to prioritize myself and set appropriate boundaries because I’m so busy worrying about everyone else liking me.

The thought of someone not liking me feels personal. It feels like a strike against me as a person. Nevermind the fact that no one in the world is universally liked, I’ll still push to break that barrier. I’ll eviscerate the emotional and physical boundaries I’ve set for myself to please as many as I can. No one has asked me to do this. It’s a choice I’ve made for myself to try to maintain my own sanity.

When people do overstep a boundary, I let them right on in. Even though I should kindly lock the door, tell them to come back later, I’m too worried about appearing selfish and instigating feelings of anger.

The BPD in me shines through my recurrent thoughts that I am a burden to others and doomed to ruin every relationship, platonic or romantic, that I enter. Because of this, I struggle to maintain a connection with others when we are not together. We could have a fabulous time one day, laughing and forming a tight connection, but the second you are out of my sight I will begin to doubt the relationship. I may fear you are upset or angry with me based on the way you respond to a text message.

This is more about me than it is about you. It’s not about negative opinions I have of you; it’s about the negative tirade that’s happening in my head. I’m trying to hold onto the sense of trust and connection between us, but sometimes it slips right through my fingers and gets lost in the chaos.

You might notice that I shy away from disagreement, and will say things like “it’s fine” or “it doesn’t matter” the second I start to feel opposition from you or any sort of tension and anger on your part. I will invalidate my own needs and values, stomp them into dust myself, if I think that’s what you want to hear.

Or, more likely, I’ll just stay quiet and say nothing at all. Because if I speak in opposition of what you believe, I’m worried you will think I’m criticizing your opinions. I’m worried you will be upset with me. I assume if we disagree, it will lead to conflict, and that conflict will be the end of our relationship.

The world is full of disagreements and that’s scary to me. Remember that thing I said about not knowing what’s the truth? Well, how can I fight for something if I’m not sure my truth is the real truth? Or worse, if there’s no right opinion? Navigating all of that is fiercely confusing. Being around groups of people exacerbates these fears, because there’s a greater chance of differing opinions. The BPD in me makes me want to hide away from it all. When you see me withdrawing, it’s usually because nothing feels like the right thing to say, everything too risky.

You might notice that I apologize, repeatedly, for very small infractions. It might be something small that barely even bothered you, and here I am holding onto it with numerous apologies even once you’ve told me it’s fine. I know it’s probably annoying but I literally cannot help myself. Even the smallest of mistakes feels fatal to me, so I do everything I can to compensate for it. Everything I can to keep you with me.

The BPD in me makes me a perfectionist. I want to do everything right, to say everything right, be everything right for everyone. If I do all that, then I am in control, and I need to feel in control of my life. The expectations I’ve set for myself are beyond what anyone could ever reach, and yet I tell myself I need to aim for it anyway. I tell myself if I just try hard enough, be good enough, I can do it.

I know that it makes me look a little frazzled sometimes, when I’m obsessing about getting it all right. I’m aware that it’s frustrating for others when I’m going on and on about everything on my plate. This is why. That voice in my head, telling me I have to handle it all perfectly. That voice in my head, telling me I’m a failure each time I don’t. I get stuck in that space, trying desperately to find ways to feel like I’ve fulfilled my expectations for myself .

The BPD in me makes me impulsive. My intense emotions can feel overwhelming and I’m not always so good at sitting with them, Usually, it’s because I feel wronged and am putting pressure on myself to communicate my pain with others.  I may make assumptions about what others are thinking. I may say or do something in a flurry of feelings based purely off of my misguided belief. In those moments, I’ve forgotten to lay situations out and look at the evidence against the emotions and assumptions. I’ve forgotten to consider the consequences of my actions.

BPD has told me to act now and get it all out before it’s too late, so I do. Unfortunately, that usually hurts someone. Afterwards,  I see all that much more clearly, and I regret it immensely. It’s a pattern I’m still digging my way out of. When I’m impulsive, it may hurt you. I’m sorry for that.

My impulsivity takes other forms. I’m notorious for eating more calories than one person needs and asking you not to judge me for it. Mozzarella sticks, pizza, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, candy. These are my weaknesses, because they are a comfort, at least in the moment, and I’m often looking to soothe sad feelings.

Then there’s the financial impulsively. I will buy something frivolous: new clothes, a figurine from Amazon, Packer’s tickets. I’ll tell myself I deserve it. I’ll tell myself I need it. These are rationales used to cover the unhealthiness of my decision. The truth is, I’m trying to fill a void, because the BPD in me makes me feel empty too.

I’m grieving over absences, things I wish I’d had that were never there and never will be. Accepting that loss feels dismissive. I yearn to find ways to compensate for the things I was missing, but how can I ever make up for what was lost? Living with that knowledge just spurs resentment at others.

I resent my parents for not teaching me the skills I needed to identify, verbalize, and regulate my emotions or to build and maintain appropriate relationships that include disagreement; for instead teaching me how to get angry, to yell, and to bury everything else. I resent my friends for having the skills that I don’t, for knowing how to cultivate friendships and not missing out on those positive experiences in high school and college. I resent people with confidence, people know who know who they are. I resent people who have the life experiences I want to have: travel, weddings, families.

I feel ashamed of my resentment, a difficulty tolerating that my parents could have tried their best but still didn’t give me enough of what I needed. I feel ashamed at the way I compare myself to others. Still, the feelings continue.

At the core of me, I feel like my life has no meaning, like I’m not connected intricately enough to anyone to make a difference. In a way, I lift right out. I wish that my relationship with my parents was more solid. I wish I had siblings. I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish I had a friendship group where I was the first pick to go out on holidays, birthdays, and other occasions, instead of being the afterthought or backup. I don’t have these things.

I know that it is on me to overcome the emptiness. It’s on me to take the steps to overcoming all of this. I’m trying to fight the BPD in me, I really am. I’m no longer sure if it’s part of me or another entity, but I know that is causes distress. So I’m trying. I have to repeat that as an attempt to convince myself because I don’t believe that I’m trying hard enough.

Again, I need the reassurance.

Taking care of myself requires herculean effort sometimes. The depression makes me dread waking up in the morning. It breeds hopelessness. The anxiety has me fretting over every interaction in my path. Sometimes, the most I can manage is to light a candle, take a shower, or read a book. Usually, I just sleep.

I feel all the negative feelings and it culminates in self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Sometimes even suicidal plans. I can’t remember that last time I went longer than a day or two without at least considering suicide. I truly believe this will be how I meet my end one day, even if it’s not today.

Then perfectionism swoops in and blasts me for not being better, working harder. The BPD in me reminds me I’ve learned the skills and should be able to use them more effectively by now. I should have some of the things I so desperately want, and I’m not making progress quickly enough. Then I’m back in the space of feeling fundamentally flawed again.

This is how I’ve been for a long time. I ask myself again and again why I’m like this, and this is what the research has told me: The emotions may be out of my control, but I cling to the negative judgements and the poor coping responses because it’s what I know. It seemingly serves me to protect me from being hurt, even though it really doesn’t. It’s seemingly comfortable because it’s familiar, even though it’s also miserable.

As soon as things start to get better, the BPD in me has a tendency to jump in and self-sabotage. The truth is, I never feel at ease. I am always on guard, ready for things to implode. I am expecting that they will, because they always have.

I wrote this elsewhere before:  My mind refuses to accept that the other shoe won’t drop, refuses to acknowledge that things might just maybe be verging on okay. It’s like driving around with my check engine light on constantly. I keep checking the engine only to discover that nothing is wrong. The car is running fine. But the light stays on just in case. Just in case something really is wrong with the engine and it’s about to blow.

This is the BPD in me. It’s something I work hard against daily. It’s something that sometimes gets the best of me. It’s something I hate and wish would go away, because it makes everything more difficult.

I wish that people could understand better the totality of my experience, but I can recognize why putting yourself in my shoes wouldn’t be easy or desirable. Maybe this piece at least did a fair job of explaining the unique combination of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are common to the borderline world.

I hope I can break free of the BPD in me, but for now, I’m just working on getting through.

Help me. See me.

A lot of people say that no news is good news. So if you don’t hear from someone, it must be because they have nothing bad to report.

My posts have dwindled down to about nothing since I’ve started my new job. It’s been almost two months now, and I’ve written only a handful. I somewhat saw this coming, despite my greatest hopes that things would unfold differently.  Unfortunately though, although my period of absence has been long, it is not a no news is good news situation. No, it’s quite the opposite of that.

The last I posted here, I was taking a break from therapy and feeling pretty good about it. I did follow through with it, for a total period of 21 days in between sessions. It was the longest I’d ever been apart from J. While we were away from each other, I mindlessly counted the passing of the days.  I didn’t feel an intense longing to be with her. I thought about her, missed her a bit, but mostly I just dove into my work and kept busy.

A few days before we resumed therapy, I had a really awful day at work. I slipped and texted her, because I really needed some support. I asked for a phone call. She answered hours later, saying I could call her after work, but I’d calmed at that point and didn’t feel it was necessary to stir up the emotions again. So we didn’t speak.

October 18 came around and suddenly it was time for us to be in the same room again. But hours before that, I had an appointment scheduled with a different therapist. We will call her L.

L is young. She’s even younger than J, and I honestly wondered if she was older than me. When I first met her, her age and the fact that she was wearing jeans felt extremely off-putting, but I figured I was already there and I needed to talk to someone about J before I went to see J. So I stayed.

The session was fine, maybe even good. If nothing else, it felt wonderful to be able to say the things that I’d been holding back from J without fear of her reaction. L validated a lot of the experiences I’d had, with her words and her facial expressions. When I talked about J not calling me like I expected, her eyes widened. “Wow.”  It was nice to feel like I wasn’t crazy, like I wasn’t being pathologized and maybe some of my feelings had some validity to them.

After I’d shared my whole story, L had a couple of concerns about J. She was concerned that J’s defensive reactions to my feelings (namely, the anger) weren’t exactly helpful. She was also concerned that J doesn’t seem truly recognize my issues with emotional constancy appropriately, as she tends to trigger more than reassure.  L’s understanding and accurate description of the way my trust pretty much evaporates between sessions almost made me feel vindicated.

L said a couple things in session that I’ve been holding on to. First, she said that part of the reason J and I are having problems is probably because we have such a connection, because you really only have feelings like this with people you care about. She thought that it was good that I wanted to keep working with her, that I was fighting for it.

“I know the BPD part of your brain is telling you to burn the bridge,” she told me, and I felt a flutter of giddiness at being understood, “but it’s good that you’re looking at this from multiple perspectives.”

We made a list of goals to work on together and then I left for my session with J.

The first session back was okay. I had wondered if J was going to address our time apart and she didn’t, not at first. We talked a little bit about how my job was going, and the impetus behind the phone call that didn’t happen. I sat and squirmed uncomfortably. She asked me “what I had learned about myself over the break” and I rolled my eyes internally (hopefully not externally!) at what a therapist crap question that was.

I think the answer she wanted was that I could survive being away from her, but I’m not sure. I don’t remember exactly what I even told her.

She eventually asked me if I wanted to discuss what he hadn’t talked about because of the phone call that didn’t happen. We talked again about the miscommunication; meaning she repeated her side and I repeated mine. I didn’t feel like I could tell her how abandoned and unimportant I felt at the oversight, because she sounded so matter-of-fact about her understanding of the situation that it almost felt condescending. Like, it’s not my fault that you didn’t know you were supposed to call, so too bad on you.  I’m over this, you should be over this by now too. 

I did tell her that I had needed to talk to her and that it was really difficult not to be able to do that. I voiced that disappointment, but when I came up against the wall of “this is my understanding of it, this is how I’ve always done things” I quickly dismissed my own feelings before I could feel any more dismissed by her.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. Not convincing in the slightest.

“Is that true?” she countered.

“Well, it is what it is.” Because really, wasn’t that the truth? She didn’t really seem interested in hearing my pain. And we moved on.

For awhile after that, we talked about my suicidal thoughts. This is like one of the few things that I can actually say she’s made a noticeable attempt at following through with – checking in. I recognize and appreciate that. And because she asked, I was able to be honest about it.

Of course, she didn’t really seem to get what I was saying to her. I was trying to tell her how I felt like if I killed myself, it wouldn’t really affect anyone that much. Like, aside from my parents, I just lift out of their lives. Maybe they’d be sad for a little while, but most people would adjust and move on.

She made me make a list of everyone whose life would be affected, even a little bit, if I died. I really fought that, because she was missing the point, and I told her so. It wasn’t about the number of people, it was about the quality of the relationship. She said something to the tune of “So your life isn’t living because people wouldn’t be destroyed with grief if you died?”

Wow, thank you for painting me as completely narcissistic. No, it’s not as simple as that. It’s about the fact that I don’t feel like I have any truly meaningful relationships. My relationship with my parents is complicated and I often feel so different from them. I love my friends, but they all have their own “groups” of people that they’re closer with.I’m everyone’s backup plan, no one’s first choice. I’m not in a relationship. I’m not a central figure at my job, or even someone whose work is really valued because I’m not changing anyone’s life.

Do I think my friends would miss me? Sure. Do I think it would affect their lives that much since we don’t even talk a lot? Not so much. They’d replace me at work. It would be hard for the girls at first, but they’d find someone else eventually. And at therapy, J would fill my slot.

I told her all that. “You’re more than a 6:30 timeslot,” she said, which was sweet. I heard what she was trying to convey.

After she said that, I finally found the courage to tell her that I was angry about the whole phone call, that it contributed to me wanting to take a break, and that I felt like she was probably happy I wasn’t there.

It was near the end of session, so she didn’t say much back other than maybe we could talk about it the next session. I nodded, and asked her in a very small voice: “Are you fed up with me.”

The look she gave me very closely resembled an eye roll. She tilted her head and side-eyed me.

Are. you. fucking. kidding. me.

Did we not just have a whole discussion on how her rolling her eyes made me feel like she thought I was ridiculous and pathetic? Like my needs were childish?

I’m proud of myself, because I actually looked at her and said. “Please don’t look at me that way. I’m being serious. I need to hear it from you, because it feels differently.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She said she was trying to give me a look as if to say oh, come on. I told her that wasn’t helpful.

I can’t even remember if she actually told me she wasn’t fed up or not. All I remember about that interaction is that I asked her a vulnerable question and instead of giving me a genuine response, she used this ambiguous look that maybe was supposed to mean Of course I’m not fed up with you but came across to me as Shouldn’t you know better by now? What type of ridiculous question is that? If I wasn’t fed up before, I am now. 

So yeah, I left with some mixed feelings and maybe a little more anger to add to the pile.

On Monday, I called for my first phone check-in. I’d had a crappy weekend; some intense chest pain after swallowing a liquid the wrong way sent me to urgent care and both my mother and grandfather’s responses to that just exacerbated things in a negative way. I was overwhelmed with work and the way it seems to cloud every aspect of my damn life. I told J all of that. She was somewhat sympathetic and talked about setting better boundaries, but didn’t give me a lot of specific strategies. I felt like I was just getting some vague suggestions to “separate myself from the job” and “give myself credit” with some cliched silver linings thrown in there.

Again, it was fine, but I felt something was lacking. I hung up feeling disappointed.

By Thursday, I was anxious about seeing her. I knew I had a bucketload of building feelings, many of them negative, and I wasn’t sure what I felt comfortable doing with them.

There was a lot of silence, scattered all throughout the session. I’m finding that I really don’t know what to say anymore. I’ve got all this pain that I deal with throughout the week, doubts about my abilities in my job, fears about the future, feelings of emptiness and low self-worth.

But when I get in there, I can’t get at the heart of it with her. She’s encouraged me to talk about what I’m feeling, reminded me that it’s okay to share the same feelings again and again, but I can’t do it. Hell, on Wednesday night I had a breakdown because I’d set poor boundaries with babysitting and was doing a report into the late night hours. I cut myself six times. When asked how the rest of my week had been, I just admitted things had been difficult. I talked a little bit about what had been going on at school, but shoved the rest into a box.

So we were quiet. She asked what I wanted to talk about and I shrugged, because I really didn’t know. “I don’t know what to say,” I told her. “Okay,” she said.

More silence.

I sat there, remembering her comment about discussing my anger from the previous week. Ask me directly, I thought. Please ask so I know it’s okay and you want to hear it. I know some of you will harp on the fact that should be the one bringing it up, but can you imagine how terrifying it is to address my feelings towards her when many of my past attempts have not been fruitful? While I think about sharing, every fiber in my being fights it.

I’m waiting for a cue that it’s safe. I’m waiting for her to tell me that this is important, that whatever I’m feeling we can work through together. I’m waiting for her to show me that she’s willing to listen.

We eventually talked about some social situations at school that had been difficult. We got back to the conversation on boundaries. J asked me how I could set better boundaries around thinking about school, since I’m at the point now where I’m dreaming about the kids. It was the same question she’d asked on the phone the other day, and provided little answer for.

I snapped, without meaning to. “I know know. I need some strategies. That’s why I’m asking you!”

She looked quite taken aback. Part of me enjoyed that, honestly, because it meant that she really heard my frustration. The rest of me felt bad about it.

We talked more about that for awhile, until we were lulled back into a silence. “How should we finish out our session today?” she asked.

“I’m really not sure,” I said, looking away. I really just wanted her to take the lead. My mind was completely blank, aside from all the feelings towards her I was burying. It was 7:20. “Wow,” I said quietly. “We still have 20 minutes left.”

“More like 10,” she corrected. Except she’d taken me at 6:40, and I get a full hour, so it was 20.

I started to tell her that, but immediately stopped. It didn’t feel like it was worth it. And what I’d taken from her response was I don’t want to see you for any longer than I have to. Nevermind, I said.

“Do you want there to be 20 minutes left?” she asked pointedly, and I couldn’t tell what she meant by that.

“No, 10 minutes is fine.”

I was incredibly uncomfortable at this point. I’m sure it showed, and finally she asked what was going on for me. What was I feeling? I told her frustration. She wanted to know what I was angry about. I told her I wasn’t sure if it was okay to say why I was frustrated. She said, okay that’s fine.

Okay, cool. Except she obviously knew the frustration was at her because I had told her the previous week. I took her response to mean that I should continue to shove the feelings down.

Some of this next part might be out of order, because I can’t remember exactly how it unfolded. I just remember what was said in pieces. But she did know the frustration was at her. I finally said to her. “Things haven’t felt right between us. I know you feel it too.” Then I corrected myself, trying not to assume. “Or at least, I think you feel it too.”

J agreed things had been tense for a little while. See? I knew she knew.

She asked me what else I was feeling. I told her scared. Again, she asked of what. I sat bracing myself for a long time, and then finally was able to admit that I was afraid of her. How she might respond to my feelings.

“Because you might not like what I have to say?”

Wow, J, are you really that dense or do you just really think that poorly of me?

It all opened up then. I told her it feels like I’m not allowed to talk about therapy in therapy because the last time I said I felt like I was doing a lot of that, she agreed with me. What I said this, she just nodded in agreement, as if to say, yup, I did say that. I told her when I do share how I’m feeling about our relationship, I feel like she gets really defensive.

She mentioned that it’s been hard for her to hear that a lot of my anger is directed at her, which of course gutted me. As angry as I am, I’m not trying to hurt her. It’s hard for me to sit with that.

Which I’m sure she fucking knows.

I was proud of myself for being able to say that the imbalance of power in our relationship means that she doesn’t get to just fall back on the “I’m human” response every single time. I absolutely know she’s human, but she is also a therapist and she has to modulate her responses sometimes. She said that she knows this (sure doesn’t seem like it), but she chooses to share her feelings “once in awhile” (sure seems like more than that lately!) for some reason that I can’t remember.

I’m sure it is hard for her to hear that I have anger directed at her, but that’s literally the job she signed up for. In that moment, it’s not about what she’s feeling, it’s about what I’m feeling and where those feelings are coming from. She was making it more about her than me. I didn’t say this part, I wish I had.

I told her that I’m stuck in this cycle right now where I’m afraid to share my anger because I’m afraid of making her feel helpless, like she can’t say anything right. And then when I do share, I feel like what I do share gets thrown back in my face (e.g. the eye roll, which I didn’t mention specifically, but alluded to). She can say it’s not a judgement, but that’s not how I’m perceiving it.

She knows that she does that apparently. She says she’ll bring things up knowing it’ll make me uncomfortable. I guess it’s some tool? I don’t remember, because all I could think was, well fuck you, that’s clearly not helpful for me.

I told her that I know some of my feelings are valid and I’m afraid of being pathologized. I’m holding back because I need to know she’s hearing me, not just defending her perspective.

“Well, when have I not compromised with you?” she asked.

That comment stung. First, she completely missed any opportunity to validate everything I was saying about not feeling safe or heard. Second, she missed an opportunity to truly hear and honor my anger in an appropriate way.

I can appreciate that maybe she really wanted to know specific examples as a way of improving her interactions with me, but her tone did not convey that. It didn’t feel like she was asking out of genuine understanding, but rather to dismiss my experiences further by explaining her good intentioned. I could feel that she really didn’t understand where my anger at her was coming from.

I didn’t feed into it, because I knew if I brought up a situation right then (e.g. her agreeing to write the letter and then not writing the fucking letter), I would likely just feel more invalidated.  I told her I didn’t feel like I could communicate my feelings effectively at that moment. She let it go.

We went back and forth for awhile more. J asked me how holding onto my anger outside here was serving me. I asked her why I should just have to let it go, why I shouldn’t be allowed to express it. “You’ve always been allowed to express your anger,” she said, “I know I’ve said that.” Great, let’s make it about you again. Plus, that’s so confusing. Why are you simultaneously telling me to let it go but also express it?

Then I said I’m afraid to share it because I don’t want to make her feel helpless. “You don’t know that’s how I feel.” Uh, she freaking said it was how she felt? “At that moment in that time. But you don’t know that’s how I feel right now.” Which I heard as, stop making assumptions, you dumbass. You don’t know me. 

It felt like everything I said got twisted and she was willing to take on nothing about how her responses were upsetting or might have contributed to my withdrawing.

I couldn’t win. This whole conversation just fell flat on it’s ass. I know that my anger it making me read into everything she’s saying, but honestly she could have handled that so much better than she did.

There’s two parts to this: 1. I feel like J, as a therapist, could have understood that me fearing her judgements and reading into some things isn’t all about her, it’s about me and my harsh internal critic that tells me I’m always wrong and a loser who deserves to die. 2. It would be nice if she could also recognize that some of my feelings stem from her not necessarily handling some of these situations in a way that best aligned with my needs, whether or not it was technically appropriate. Maybe she even could have done some things differently. I wish she’d just admit that.

Then it was quiet. “So where do we go from here?” I asked.

“That’s your choice,” she said. “Therapy is supposed to be helpful for you. I want it to be helpful for you.”

Technically, this was an ethical response, but it wasn’t a very empathetic one. Granted, it was the end of session, but she could have given me so much more. She knows the pain I have at the thought of starting over with someone else. I know she knows, because I’ve told her 100 different times.

Mind you, I had also said at some point during session that the voice in my head was telling me to run and “burn the bridge” (a direct quote from L). “Like so many of your other relationships of the past,” she said, understanding. I nodded, and told her that I didn’t want to listen to the voice. I wanted things to feel better again.

So it was super nice that all she said was “it’s my choice,” after all that. What happened to, “I’m more than just a 6:30 timeslot?” Am I only that way when I’m not questioning her or in a frenzy of negative feelings?

Mixed messages, I swear.

Honestly, to me it felt like her pushing me in the direction of the door without having the gall to actually say it out loud.

At the end of session, she also told me that it’d probably be good if we spent more time talking about my anger next week. Ugh. Excuse me, J, you’re part of this relationship too. You admitted to knowing it was tense and you didn’t bring it up either. It’s not just on me.

She asked if we were good for next week. I told her maybe. That I’d set it for now and we’d see. She asked if we’d be speaking by phone on Monday, I said I really didn’t know. Because I don’t.

This is the longest post I’ve ever written I think. I’m just so maxed out, so up to here with all the J stuff. Thankfully, I will see L again next week before I see J. I know that I have to go in to my next session (I’m going to go, not cancel), find a way to share all the things I’m feeling, and see how J handles it.

I can tell you that my doubts have grown larger and I’m fearing it may really be time to call it. I know she cares, somewhere in there, but I’m maybe wondering if that’s not enough. If I’m just going to keep being triggered and feeling like I have to hide it, because J won’t be able to hear my feelings towards her and work to the core of them.

That terrifies me. It’s terrifying. All these other posts, I’ve been saying I’m at a crossroads, seeking support to figure out what to do, but part of me always figured I’d just stay with J. It’d work out, it would be okay.

Now? I’m really not sure. Has my trust eroded beyond fixing? Can J really meet my needs? Does she still even want to be my therapist?

It’s all so scary, because I don’t know what the future would look like. And I need someone badly. I need a safe person. I want it to be her.

So what if it’s not? I’m wrecked at the thought of it.  I made this piece of artwork for her last night. I plan to give it to her Thursday, so maybe she can understand a little better all that’s going on inside my head right now.

I don’t want to give up on her, but I also can’t give up on me. Maybe we can fix it, maybe we can’t. Only time will tell, I guess.

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A DBT Flowchart

A few weeks ago, I posted about my confusion and frustration with figuring out when to use the abundance of new skills I was learning through my Dialectical Behavior Therapy workbook. I have tons and tons of notecards that simplify all of the information the book is spouting at me, but I needed something more comprehensive so that I can have an idea of where to go in the moment when a wave of emotions hits me hard.

I’ve been in a wonky place again for the last couple days and have pretty much been withdrawn from the blog world and the real world whenever I have the choice. The positive thing about that is while I’ve been hiding away from people, I’ve put all my energy into developing that needed flowchart.

I’m pretty happy with the results. Obviously, this is not a perfect system, as no issue is so black and white that it can be resolved by some arrows guiding you. However, I feel that it’s a worthy starting point for me that can replace some of that helpless feeling.

Hopefully you can read my handwriting. It’s broken down into color by unit (the colors I used when highlighting my book). Green is distress tolerance, blue is mindfulness, purple is emotion regulation, pink is interpersonal effectiveness.

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As anyone using DBT knows, there are many things that crop up when you’re trying to use skills which block you from being successful. I couldn’t fit all of that in one diagram, so I ended up with a second flowchart that specifically highlights some of the issues I typically run into.

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I don’t know if these will be helpful for anyone, but I wanted to share them. In a very rocky period as I look towards the beginning of my first real job, this has brought me a sense of calm and peace. There’s something about getting organized that makes me feel so empowered.