An unexpected conversation.

Have you ever had a dream where, when you wake up, you can’t shake off the feelings it has left you with? Have you ever felt compelled to double check that whoever was in that dream is ok?

For a couple of years now I have struggled to remember any of my dreams. I only remember through having one or two images from the dream the following day. And of course, a nagging feeling or emotion that I have trouble identifying. I have tried different things to work out what is going on. Why these dreams are happening the way they do, is still a mystery. It’s difficult to understand them when I remember so little.

Many different people have been in my dreams, and though I get a nagging feeling, I am usually able to contain it and move on from it without anything bad happening.

The other night, I dreamt about my ex therapist, who I started working with 15 years ago. For 5 years, we worked through many of the issues I was dealing with. We developed a brilliant therapeutic relationship, although it took me a long time to fully trust him.

I don’t remember what happened in the dream. I just knew he was there. When I woke up the following day, that worry stayed with me and he kept coming into my thoughts. This has happened before, so it wasn’t a surprising occurence that I was unfamiliar with.

A few days later, and I woke from another dream that he was in. Again, I don’t remember the content. I just remember him being in the dream, and waking up to that awful feeling. I tried, again, to dismiss it. But eventually, as the day went on, my feelings got the better of me and I emailed him to check in.

Our emails were nothing out of the ordinary. The general pleasantries having been covered, we ended up talking about our therapy days. It was interesting to hear his perspective from that time. For all this time, I have only had my own perspective and my own memories of our therapy. With a lot of those memories being vague, and some even missing, it was interesting to discuss his perspectives also.

When I think back to that time, I can see I was in such a dark and difficult place. But I never realised how deep that ran. And I never really realised how he saw things. He mentioned that he often worried that he had pushed me too much through difficult sessions. I reassured him he never did that. I remember it being much easier for me to be pushed. I struggled to simply offer up information and so there were many times where he did have to push me, where he had to ask me questions in order to get anything out of me. There were days where I was just so overwhelmed by emotions that I would shut down. Not just mentally either; I would feel physically paralysed. Sometimes I could hear him asking me questions, trying to help me ground myself, trying to get me to move my eyes, to stop that fixed stare. And even though I could hear him, I was stuck, within myself. On the inside I was screaming for him to help me; banging on the internal walls I’d built around myself and screaming as loud as I could in the hope that he would hear me. On the outside, I was still, my eyes fixated on the same spot, unable to even nod or shake my head in response to his questions. Eventually he would help me to regain control.

I remember when he would try to reassure me that it was possible that things could improve and that I wouldn’t always feel so bad. And sometimes I would question his hope and optimism. I would reply that he was just telling me that because he would never dream of telling me that I was doomed, and that things won’t get better. Calmly, he would explain that he genuinely believed what he was saying. I never believed him and I never accepted his hope or allowed him to express it without biting back at him. Though I do know that he meant everything he said in that regard; he really did believe that I had hope of moving forward from the trauma I’d experienced.

In his own words he recently described me as being, all those years ago, ‘tormented’, ‘closed down’ and ‘hard to reach out to’. And in retrospect I see that 100%. He also told me that he didn’t know if I would survive, which made me realise how lucky I was. I was lucky to have not purposely killed myself. And I was even luckier that I didn’t accidentally kill myself through self-harm, overdosing, ligaturing. My life could have been wiped out and I wouldn’t be here today to share my experiences. And now, 15 years on from when I first met this person, I can happily say he was right. His fear that I may not have survived was very real and he had good reason to have the concern. I don’t think he was the only one with that worry.

When you are in the midst of depression and other mental health problems, it is near impossible to ever believe you can get through it and have a better life.
I am living proof that it is possible to survive. Never be afraid of reaching out when you are struggling. There will always be somebody who is willing to help, support and guide you. I would give anyone my time if they needed it or asked for it. Plenty of people have given me their time throughout my life when I needed it. And I believe that is partly why I am still here today.

You never need to suffer alone❤️

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! 

How should counselling feel? Mumbo-jumbo, questions and.. shit! 

Those who know me will know I am always open and honest in my writing and I don’t hold back; especially when it comes to mental health.

Towards the beginning of this year I decided to re-enter into ‘therapy’ after my GP suggested it could help me to come to terms with my deteriorating fatigue and pain. I self-referred, as per my GP’s advice, to the primary care service. Within a week of referring myself I had a telephone consultation with somebody, so I could explain what had been happening. This enables the service to then signpost or offer further support. I discussed my inability to come to terms with the fact that I cannot do what people of my age can do; as a result of physical and/or mental health problems. I cannot work, because every single day is different. I do not know how bad or good I may feel. I struggle to wake up to an alarm; no matter how early or late it may be. Some days I struggle to simply wake up and it can take me the whole day to ‘come to’. Those days, I rely heavily on Bex helping me out (I’d be lost without her). I struggle to concentrate for long periods of time. Sometimes I cannot concentrate on anything. I have slowly gone from being somebody who is super organised, to somebody who relies again, heavily on Bex to help me remember appointments. Sometimes, if not all the time, Bex will have to remind me of my plans for the day, several times. Only yesterday she had to remind me of something over and over again. And still, I need a reminder within 1 hour of that appointment because my memory just struggles so much to retain information. 

Anyway, back to this telephone assessment. After about half an hour it was agreed that I could benefit from some counselling. Initially, as with most places, I could have 6 sessions with the potential for a further 6 if needed. I was happy for my name to be put on the waiting list. Then she informed me that the wait was 6 months at the very least. Great. I actually genuinely understand that resources are stretched and I am not saying people should be seen ‘immediately’. However; my GP suggested counselling because I am struggling now, not in 6+ months. 

I knew at that point that I was going to have to look for something. After a bit of research, I found somebody that offered online counselling sessions; ideal for me. It means I can have counselling without having the added stress of physically going anywhere. Plus, it helps me to feel ‘safer’ having some anonymity. The cost of going private means I can’t have weekly sessions; which is the ideal. But, the way I felt at that time meant that every fortnight would still be better than nothing.

After an initial conversation online, with a counsellor, I kind of knew she was the right one. And I have to say; this is THE best therapy so far (and I have had a lot in my time). After a session yesterday, I got thinking about the process. 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?

So many questions running around a tired, tiny brain. I have some potential ideas in response to those questions, which I will happily share with you in my next post. So watch this space 👍

Annnnnnnnd relax 😊❤

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?

You’ve been waiting for me

In my first post, I spoke about living with a Personality Disorder, and how I’m now living a happier life. I ended promising to carry on where I’d left. So, what’s so different now? I personally believe it was a number of factors. Looking back over the last 2 years, it actually looks like life gave me chances and I made some difficult, but great decisions. But why then? Why not years ago? The only sensible (to me) answer to those questions is, I just wasn’t ready years ago. The most puzzling question might be, what was I not ready for?

Happiness could be one thing. I wasn’t in a place where I believed I deserved to feel, or at times be happy. Because I didn’t allow happiness in, I spent so long in a place that had become my ‘norm’. My norm started out with a lot of unhappiness, anger, guilt, shame, fear etc. being locked away inside me. I told nobody of it, until something pushed me over the edge. When that happened, I suddenly had all these people (professionals) wanting to listen to me. People actually cared about how I was feeling; and it felt very strange and alien to me. I wanted them to listen to me, but I didn’t know how to talk. I wanted to bring down my barriers, but they were far too big and strong. However, every time I spoke to a professional who listened and cared, the tiniest amounts of rubble from the tops of the walls around me fell down. Each interaction becoming stronger than the next, and over the years between them, the professionals brought my barriers down.

I am aware at this point that I’m only talking about professionals, and not friends and family. I am in no way saying my friends and family didn’t help me through the last few years. They’ve had a massive impact on my recovery, just as massive as the work professionals did, but in a completely different way, and one I’ll talk about in another post (I promise).

There is a reason I’m only mentioning professionals and I wanted to write a bit about this too. However, my eyes are very tired now so I can’t write much more.

Borderline PD is a lot about attachment issues; issues relating to childhood attachments. I’m not going to get all scientific on you, but I realised only a few months ago that I did in fact have attachment issues; after spending years denying I had any problem. I genuinely believed I didn’t have any attachment issues, but one day in a 1-2-1 with my cpn, I said something and it instantly clicked. By ‘attachment issues’ I don’t mean I was so attached to them I was stalking them, having imaginary relationships with them (that’s very extreme). I was more emotionally attached. If I felt they genuinely cared about me, I would hold them in high regard. They couldn’t really do any wrong. And any time I majorly disagreed with them and (at my worst times) accused them of wrong doings, verbally insulted them, it was usually because they had touched a nerve. I was so not used to people touching any nerves, so when they did, it felt highly intense and impossible to control.

Ok, this now leads on to blog post 3. Yet to be written 🙂

Good night everyone x

The unexpected welcome post

Well this really is going to be fun… a blog full of the randomness of my mind; the stuff you shouldn’t say out loud. It won’t all be like that though. I’m just going to talk randomly about whatever pops into my head, so if I’m honest the topic could be absolutely anything.

For those who know me, you’ll know I’ve done a lot of work around mental health and self-harm in particular. Next month it’ll be 9 years exactly that I first came into contact with mental health health services. As it so happens, next month will also be the first time in 9 years that I’ve ever been discharged and completely out of secondary mental health services.

In 2013 my CPN (community psychiatric nurse) went on maternity leave. The team gave me my options: to try a 12 month programme specifically for people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, or be discharged from services. At that time I was absolutely distraught just to hear the dreaded “D” word. How could they even consider discharging me when I felt so low?

Living with a personality disorder is a very scary, lonely and confusing thing. Having first been diagnosed years ago, I refused to believe that my diagnosis was correct. However, if it meant I had to do group work and 1-2-1 work every week rather than being discharged, I would. At that moment I would have agreed to anything to avoid discharge because I was so terrified of not having that support to fall back on. Now as I see it, I was afraid of being abandoned and rejected. I was afraid that people would no longer care about me. My needs were somehow being met by the professionals who worked with me, and for as long as I had a professional to work with, I felt somebody cared. I felt I always had at least 1 person to turn to in times of crisis.

Anyhow, I agreed to do this 12 month programme that the team were piloting. It took about 12 months for them to set it all up and prepare people for the group work. During this time I had regular 1-2-1 sessions with a new CPN. She, and others in the team had been trained in Structured Clinical Management (SCM) which is what the 12 month programme was based around. I was dreading doing the group work, but the group was only small and we all got on. I have 2 group sessions left and I will have completed it.

I have to say, at the beginning I was only going along with it to stop them discharging me. I am so glad I did agree to it. Every week we’d discuss different things, learn new skills and then be given optional homework to practice what we’d learned. I gave things a try, I liked the theory of things and remember saying “in theory it sounds brill, but doing it is a completely different thing”. I started with little things, practicing talking more openly with loved ones, being honest with people about how their behaviour sometimes affected me, and moved on to start being more assertive. First I started saying no to things I really didn’t want to do. I was riddled with guilt every time I did it, but I had to tolerate it. I had to mentally remind myself that I had the right to refuse to do something I didn’t want to do, that if other people were unhappy with it that was their problem, not mine. And to my surprise, it became apparent quite quickly that this shit was working. People seemed to stop relying so heavily on me for things and stopped assuming that I would agree to do something they asked of me. Behaving in this way eventually led me to start believing that I was as worthy as anyone else of asserting myself and my own needs. The skills they taught us in group helped me to assert myself in a way that wasn’t offensive to others. I learned to be honest with people. I learned to sit people down and tell them if something they had said/done had upset me. That way, I stopped bottling every little annoyance up, and my overwhelming feelings slowly started to reduce. I became more aware of my emotions; how to name what I was feeling and what to do to change it if I needed to, or how to tolerate certain feelings until they passed.

I feel a little like I’m waffling. I didn’t want my first post to be so long and babbly but you know me, I get on one and can’t stop myself.

I’ll carry on with this in my second entry. So, if you wanna know what’s so different for me now, how I’ve managed with my self-harm and how I feel about the looming discharge then keep checking back for post 2!