Why is counselling so good this time & how is it having such a positive and powerful impact?

In my previous post, you will notice I asked a lot of questions about the counselling process. This post will hopefully give you some insight into my own ideas, views and beliefs about my counselling. 

So; onto my response to my questions.

I wonder why it works so well this time? What is different this time? How had it become that I felt great after each session? Was it to do with the counsellor, or was it to do with me? And is this how it feels when it really works? Is this what counselling should look like? And if so, why had it never looked like this before?

I believe that this time around, my own approach to my counselling has been very different to previous therapies. In the last 10 years, one of the most important lessons I have learned, is that honesty and openness helps to keep me well. I don’t necessarily mean just being honest about how my days have been or how I feel now etc. I mean complete honesty as in also bringing up any issues with the counselling process too. During my last counselling session, which seems to have been the most significant yet, I spoke to my counsellor about issues I’d normally shy away from. You know, when you want to say ‘There is something I would like to say’ but you don’t feel confident enough? I wanted to discuss my own behaviour and bring up things that required a certain amount of assertiveness to it. And I did that; I brought things to the session that felt so difficult to discuss but I knew if I didn’t that it would play on my mind and eat away at me. What was different this time? The counsellor is the obvious difference. A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful. But I think the main difference is my approach. I am not going to gain much from the sessions if I am not as open and honest with the counsellor as I should be. I have learned that my thoughts and feelings are not right or wrong. They just are. I have learned so many times, that bottling something up; even the ‘small’ things, can be detrimental to my health. I know from experience, that if I don’t speak the truth about my feelings, that it takes it’s toll on me and I can become very unwell.

I do believe this is what counselling should look like, for sure. I believe that an effective partnership between counsellor and client is essential. If you don’t feel comfortable with somebody you are working with, then it’s likely that you won’t feel able to bring your most difficult feelings to the sessions. Feeling great after sessions isn’t just about having a ‘buzz’ from getting things off your chest; it’s also about feeling motivated, confident in your own abilities and inspired to make changes; no matter how small. 

I think that counselling this time around is so different because I am so different to how I used to be. I know a lot more about myself, through all my previous therapy, and I’m lucky enough to have become assertive throughout my life (not just in counselling).

That does not mean I have assertiveness down to a tee. There are some areas in my life where I still struggle a lot. But, if it can change and improve in other areas of my life, I know it can change in all areas. I just have to be patient with myself enough for it to come in time.

So… the key, for me has been: authenticity, transparency and honesty. In general, we get back what we put in. So going into anything half-arsed means you won’t experience the optimum benefit. Holding back only means you prevent yourself from taking another step forward. Only you can change that; with the right person/therapist. It’s a combination really then.

A good therapeutic relationship in which you feel safe enough to do or say things that may enable you to learn about yourself, along with a drive within you that makes you want to improve things, will equal success. Whether it improves your own self-belief, self-esteem or confidence will mainly depend on how much of the real issues you discuss. 

This time around, therapy is different in the sense that I am not learning skills I didn’t have; it is more about re-connecting with my current skill set. Of course I am, and may continue to learn new skills too, in the process; which is a bonus.

The quote below is one of my favourites, and by one of my all-time favourite writers; Erin Hanson. Don’t be afraid of falling. Just go with the flow. Take risks and believe in yourself. You have what you need, inside. You just need to access it ❤ something that my counsellor has recently reminded me of. She’s spot on! 

Borderline Personality Disorder: We found love in a hopeless place; literally!

Relationships have always been a sticky subject with me. To be quite honest I’ve always preferred being single, and even as a teenager, was never really interested in finding a boyfriend (or girlfriend for that matter). This was possibly a lot to do with previous experiences in relationships; I usually always gave in to my partners and they usually had full control of the relationship. Even if that meant I wasn’t happy; their feelings were always put before mine (which I believe is called ‘subjugation’ sp?).

I’ve had a number of relationships, some short term, some long term. Nothing ever too serious. The fear of commitment was far too much for me. I much preferred being on my own, enjoying ‘me’ time at home on an evening, not having to check with your partner before agreeing to go out in case they’ve made plans for us etc. And I very clearly remember discussing this in a group setting about 2 years ago; “I don’t ever want to get married, I don’t want kids, I’m happy as I am and that’s that”. Anyone dared suggest otherwise I’d freak out.

There was one person in this group who I considered to be a friend. We’d not long known each other, but I instantly felt comfortable around her because she was just so laid back and chilled out. I admired people who were like that; because it was something I could never be… I did not “chill out” and was always on the go, worrying about something, feeling tense. I could never have the attitude of “don’t worry, it’ll be fine”. Being friends with her really helped me to be able to start doing that and now I’m so laid back I’m horizontal at times. I don’t worry half as much as I used to. I don’t stress about the little things like I did.

We were very good friends and I could tell her anything, with her feeling the same about me. I didn’t have any ‘feelings’ for her in the beginning. And, in my mind, I was ‘straight’; the thought of being in a relationship with my friend who also happened to be female just never entered my mind. Then eventually, just before Christmas 2014, I realised I was falling in love with her. I did have feelings for her and I loved her and wanted to be with her. You can imagine, I was pretty dumbfounded at this point; what the feck do I do now?

At first I tried pushing those feelings away. It was scary to think I might be falling for a female; I wasn’t ‘gay’. The feelings grew stronger and after finally discussing it with my CPN, I managed to work through my anxieties and fears, before coming to terms with the fact that actually, you really can’t help who you fall for. Never in a million years did I expect I’d be settling down with someone of the same sex, but it’s happening.

We told family and a small selection of close friends just after christmas 2014, and have been together since. I can honestly tell you, I have never been in a relationship like this and it certainly isn’t dysfunctional. In almost a year of being together we’ve not had 1 single argument. We talk things through, we’re honest at all times; if I piss her off she’ll tell me (in a kinder way) and vice versa. There’s nothing we ever need to argue about; if we disagree about something we’ll discuss it and work through it or agree to disagree. I absolutely love her to pieces, she is my world. I’ve never met somebody before who I felt I could spend all my time with and always be happy. Of course, we both have our own time too as that’s important, but I much prefer being in her company. She has, at times, carried me through the past couple of years, and I’d be utterly lost without her. And now I think, so what if she’s a female; I love her and she loves me and we are happy together. It’s taken a good few months for me to be able to finally tell the world we’re together, because of my fears of what other people would think mostly. But in all honesty, our happiness is much more important, and I don’t want our relationship to be a secret anymore. She is my world, she makes me laugh, I feel safe with her, she treats me as an equal; all the things I’ve never had in previous relationships.

You genuinely just cannot help who you fall for. Love came along when I least expected it, and has brought me a long way in my recovery from mental illness. I don’t think anyone needs to be out looking for ‘the one’, I think they’ll find you one day when the time is right for both of you!

The consequences of impulsivity

Yesterday, myself and some friends had a discussion about impulsive behaviour, and it made me see just how difficult it can be for people to understand those with borderline traits or PD. When I was more impulsive in a way that was damaging to me (taking overdoses, self-harming, spending too much money, wreckless behaviour etc.), I just didn’t seem to care about the consequenses of my actions. There were times when one minute I felt brilliant, and the next minute I felt dreadful and believed I wanted to die. My emotions would literally rocket from nowhere and I’d feel sudden, extreme and overwhelming emotions. Looking back on it, I realise it was because I bottled everything up. Then I’d get to a point where I was literally full inside from head to toe of emotions and feelings I didn’t like and they’d spill out. It felt so hard to control; in fact when this happened, I’d self-harm to release the emotions a little (this was where I was impulsive). I realise now though, that I did always have some element of control, because I could always hold it until I was alone. I never self-harmed in front of anyone else, and it was very rare for me to do it if somebody was in the house with me.

If you think about impulsivity being something you just ‘do’ without thinking about; we’ve all done it at times, and in positive ways too. It’s something that happens so fast, with me it happened so fast at times (or most of the time) that I didn’t realise what I was doing until I’d actually done it.

My emotions would go through the roof, lead to some kind of impulsive behaviour (usually self-damaging) and then as quick as they came on, once I’d acted impulsively, I felt OK again. I say OK, but what I really mean is I felt more in control of my emotions. I didn’t feel like I was going to ‘lose it’ when I was around other people. On the outside I could be with somebody and look like I was feeling fine, then 2 minutes after leaving them, I’ve hurt myself; that would mess with people’s minds. “Why didn’t you tell me you felt like that?” people would ask me. I never knew the answer, and would always reply with “I don’t know”. There have been times where I’ve took overdoses thinking that I wanted to die; when in fact, I just wanted somebody to help me, so desperately. I could never see that until now. I never wanted to die, but acting impulsively, I never thought of the consequences. I never actually thought beforehand that I could have accidentally killed myself. It would be half way through overdosing I’d think; “Shit what am I doing?”, panic and would ask someone for help or take myself to hospital. People question your motives and so many times I’ve heard “if you really wanted to die, you wouldn’t have come for help”. Well you know what, that’s actually very true, but to say that to somebody when they’re feeling so shit gives them the impression that you don’t give a damn. It’s invalidating. It’s not acknowledging the pain that person is in at that time, or was in at the time of harming themselves.

Impulsive behaviours have commonly already happened by the time I’ve known about them. I never ‘wanted’ to hurt myself, but I didn’t feel in control of it. I was stuck in a vicious circle of feeling bad, self-harming, feeling bad, self-harming. BPD has so many negative associations. I’ve often heard the words ‘manipulative’ and ‘attention-seeking’. Once again comes the spectrum; we can all be manipulative, and all are to some degree. The same goes for seeking ‘attention’; we all have done or do this, to varying degrees, using different behaviours. Perhaps using the word ‘attention’ isn’t very accurate, or is a little bit of a broad term. If you look closer, there is a need in that person that is not being met, and they don’t know how to ask for somebody to meet that need. It could be approval-seeking, seeking reassurance from others, seeking emotional support, seeking comfort, seeking company – there are a million and one things it could be. One thing is for sure, whenever I did things that others saw as attention-seeking (self-harmed) I saw as my way of releasing my inner pain. For me, and for most who self-harm, it was very private and the only people who ever saw my fresh wounds were medical staff (GP, walk-in centre nurses, A&E staff). The only times those people might have seen a wound, was if I’d gone too far and needed stitches, or if I had an infected wound. Probably 90% of the times I’ve harmed myself, I’ve dealt with it alone and not need to tell anyone about it. So really, if I was attention-seeking, I was doing it so wrong!

People who regularly behave in a way that’s harmful to themselves are actually struggling emotionally. But, because of the way(s) they handle their emotions, they can be viewed in a very negative light; manipulative and attention-seeker. Those are harsh words to use for anyone, let alone somebody who is in turmoil and doesn’t know how to ask for help.

I really don’t know if I’m making any sense so I’m sorry if I’v rambled on a little!

I graduated from therapy

Well, strictly speaking, I’ve got 1 last 1-2-1 session next week, but I had my last group session today and although it was hard knowing I won’t be going back into that kind of supportive environment, it was exciting too. The prospect of a lie-in on a Thursday got the better of me!

In all seriousness this is a huge deal for me. I never thought I’d be able to say that I’ve reached the end of therapy, after 9 full years in services, and feel excited about it. If you read my post about attachments, you’ll hopefully understand a little more about how strong my attachments were with mental health professionals (in particular) who were working closely with me. To finally completely let go of those safe attachments, and that safety harness, is the scariest thing to think of, and admit to. For some strange reason, up until recently, I found it so difficult to just tell it how it is. It just wouldn’t happen for me, until I’d started to develop personally, in my recovery. I was talking to my CPN in my 1-2-1 about 3-4 months ago. I said something (but have no idea what it was) and I realised at that moment that there was a change in me. Literally, out of nowhere, came reels and reels of complete honesty about my life. I admitted to things I’d never even be able to admit to myself, and from that point I felt completely amazing. It is so hard to describe what happened that day, in that 50 minutes, because it’s something that’s never happened to me before. Nothing has ever made me feel as good as I did, and have, from that day. Simply because I stopped pushing the true thoughts/feelings away, and I said them out loud which acknowledged them for the first time, comfirming they were in fact very real. I explained my attachment issues with professionals and admitted that I was terrified of being discharged; instead of persistently repeating “I’m not worried about being discharged at all” (whilst secretly shitting my pants). I admitted that, for some reason, I found it hard to give the professionals all the information they needed, in order to be able to support me better. Instead, I would drip-feed them information, try and hold it all together, until a ‘crisis’ would occur which would usually end up in a hospital admission. I was aware at the time that I drip-fed, and I couldn’t help it. It was my way of keeping myself safe I suppose, and I think now that it’s something we all do to a degree. Not a lot of people go around being 100% honest every second of every day about how they were feeling, we have to build up trust with people and learn when it’s ‘safe’ and appropriate to express our thoughts/feelings. It just takes different amounts of time for others to start trusting people, and I guess the more you’ve been let down by people in the past, the longer it’s going to take you to build up that trust with somebody in the future. It’s a really ‘simple’ psychological defence mechanism that keeps us safe from other people.

While it may take somebody a long time to trust if they’ve been hurt previously, it can sometimes be the opposite too. For me, I’d sit there wanting to honestly answer their questions, (are you having urges to self-harm? Are you safe? Are you feeling suicidal?) and the real answer would come into my head, but they heard the complete opposite to whatever that was. The answers to those questions at that time, by the way, would have been no, yes & no; but the real truth at that time would have been yes, no, yes. Is that confusing to you? I’m chuckling now at the thought of you going to and from the questions to match the answers. To sum up where I’m at now, if I was having urges to self-harm, wasn’t safe and felt suicidal, and I was asked those questions, I wouldn’t lie. I’d be able to express my true feelings in a way where other people could understand them better. Rather than, saying I was fine and then an hour later taking an overdose or hurting myself in some way. It really sounds so simple to me now, but you know what, when you’re in that ‘place’ you feel completely and utterly paralysed by your emotions.

Tolerating the intolerable feelings; what is the worst that could happen?

Tolerating feelings and emotions is something I’m still trying to get to grips with. This is a mammoth task for anyone at times, but is something people with borderline PD often struggle with. The inability to tolerate certain powerful and overwhelming emotions can cause a number of problems, such as anger management issues, self-harm (as it can alleviate overpowering emotions) and impulsive behaviours (sometimes behaviours that can put people at risk) such as wreckless driving, binge eating, over-spending, promiscuity. The reason behind these problems usually stems from a persons inability or unwillingness to tolerate how they feel. The behaviour usually leads to a dramatic change or shift in their feelings. Some of the feelings that can come from these unhelpful behaviours could be numbness, feeling free, feeling more in control or a feeling that you deserve to suffer (these are just a few examples and everyone is different).

For me, I avoided sitting with those overwhelming emotions usually by self-harming. Self-harm was the only way I knew how to change or reduce the intensity of my feelings.

For example, if I felt angry it was usually very intense and I had a strong feeling that I would completely lose control of myself. So once I’d harmed myself, the intensity of the anger reduced (like it was releasing my emotions) and I then felt in control again. This was a vicious circle I was stuck in, and it was only when I started trying to tolerate those emotions that things started to change: i broke that cycle. I remember lying in bed one night feeling extremely angry over something. I was so angry I wanted to punch something or scream and shout. Then came the self-harm urges, but I talked myself through it. If I lay there and kept myself as still and calm as possible I could focus on reminding myself that feelings come and go. That the way I felt at that moment would not last forever. And even though I felt like my whole body was about to explode, I could reassure myself that it was just a feeling and it could not harm me. Eventually I must have calmed down, because I fell asleep. Of course when I woke up, those intense feelings had subsided and the situation felt less overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really difficult thing to do, to sit with these horrible emotions and not act on them, but they do pass off eventually.

During times where your emotions are overwhelmingly strong, try to tolerate them, and ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen right now’ – most of your answers may be irrational fears (ie when I felt I was going to explode it was important to reassure myself that this was a feeling that couldn’t harm me and my body was not going to explode).

The truth is, you have to be prepared to try new things and to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Nobody likes that, but if you don’t challenge your thoughts/feelings/behaviours they won’t change or improve. You also won’t learn about your strength, but we can all be very strong when we need to be. We, as humans, tend to push through things and move forward. But the only way you can start to move forward is by clearing your path of any barriers or by finding or creating a new/different path for yourself.

Give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?

Coming to terms with, and accepting difficult adjustments in life

A lot of my friends and family know a lot about my mental health because it’s been something I’ve always tried to be open and honest about. Fewer know about the physical battle I have with my body.

In 2007 I had glandular fever; which the doctors only picked up on 6 weeks after I’d been infected. I’d spent that whole 6 weeks to and from the doctors, feeling achy, sore and tired. So once I got the diagnosis I felt a bit better for having a valid reason for being in pain and so tired. When other tests came back normal, I felt like the medical staff didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me, and it was only with pestering them that they finally did viral blood tests and found glandular fever.

Months and months went by and I was just feeling more and more tired. I would sleep almost every day until late afternoon, after briefly trying to get up in a morning and soon realising my body was still tired. Months soon became a year, and by this time I started to get painful swellings in my hands. I also constantly felt tender all over – like I was bruised all over but there ware no bruises there. Eventually I was referred to a rheumatologist who diagnosed Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue & Raynaud’s Disease.

Over the years I’ve tried numerous medications and then was told by the pain clinic that they were running out of options with regards to medications. The consultant suggested Tai Chi had benefits with fibro, and also referred me for 6 sessions of acupuncture. Physio also recommended TENs machines, so I got one. A year on and I’m still doing tai chi, taking regular painkillers, exercising gently daily etc. But around Jan 2015, my pain started worsening again. Flare ups were lasting longer and coming more frequently. Time between flares was also reducing. I have deteriorated more this year so far, than I ever have since diagnosis.

Most days now, I can’t get through the day without a nap. If I don’t nap, or at least lie down, my body starts to feel so achy and weak, and I start feeling sick, my head feels all fuzzy and I can’t think straight. If I try to push through it, those feelings just get worse until I start vomiting and feel like I’m about to collapse. Then I have no choice but to rest.

I could have the best nights sleep and still never wake fully refreshed. I have to drag myself out of bed and fight soooo hard to stop myself cancelling whatever I’ve got on and going back to bed. If I did that, I would literally never be able get anything done. What I’ve had to figure out, and it’s took me about 6 months to work out, is when do I need to actually listen to my body and rest. It’s been so difficult trying to work out if I’m exhausted, or exhausted exhausted; pushed to my limits or beyond kind of exhausted. Do I want to go back to bed because I’m not motivated enough? In which case I have to push myself to stay up and get things done. Or is it that I want to go back to bed because I actually do need to rest? In which case it’s really important I do, otherwise I’ll make myself ill by overdoing it.

Overdoing it being the next difficult thing I’ve had to work out. If I overdo it one day, I won’t know about it usually until that night or the following day. This is now one of my indicators – I know I need to rest if, the day before, I had a particularly long, busy or strenuous day. I know that my body will then take a few days to fully repair itself (I say fully, I mean back to how it was before overdoing it). So it’s tricky to know how much is too much, when the signs only develop 24 hours later. It’s pretty much been trial and error. People told me to try doing things in short bursts with regular breaks; a common one being do 10 mins of an activity, followed by 10 mins rest and so on. I found this hard, so I made up my own ‘system’ and plodded on.

Somehow I’m learning what “too much” for me personally, is. And I can usually always tell the difference between my “everyday exhaustion” and my exhaustion exhaustion.

The most difficult part for me, and something I’ve struggled with a lot, is coming to terms with the changes in my body. I often say I feel like I’m trapped in the body of an frail old lady. I can’t do things like I used to be able to. What’s even harder about that, is I’m still in my late 20’s; I never expected I’d be so physically limited at this age. People in their 50’s+ have spoken to me about their struggle to come to terms with the fact that they are ageing; that their bodies can no longer do what it used to be able to do. Exercise can become more demanding, health can deteriorate, tiredness kicks in quicker, body aches and pains etc. Looking back on those convsersations, I can completely empathise. It’s so hard to accept that you might never to be able to do certain things that you once could, or even if you can, it may not be with as much satisfaction or enjoyment because of pain, tiredness or other problems.

The fact is, at the moment, my chronic fatigue and fibro pain are debilitating. I am having to really adjust my life to be able to reduce my symptoms as much as I possibly can. I cannot begin to explain to you how hard that is, and the amount of times I’ve sobbed my eyes out because I just don’t want to believe it all is unreal. Thankfully, the tearful outbursts are not that often. Mostly I try to just get on with it. I get told off by people around me for doing too much sometimes, but I am really trying. I always swore that I would never let my physical problems stop me from doing anything, so it’s hard when, for example, I need help with housework, because I don’t ask for help and keep trying to do it myself. One day I’ll learn, but for now I’m still learning too many other things.