Tag: interpersonal

How do you love someone who is hurting his/herself when it feels you can only watch?

WARNING: this post mentions self-harm and suicide and the point of view of carers of people who are struggling.

How do you love someone who is slowly hurting his/herself – and you wonder if actually, they’re taking their life gradually – when it feels like you can only watch?

I don’t mean how do you feel love. That’s not in question. It’s your love that aches and burns and cries inside you.

But how do you give love?

When it seems you can only watch. Watch, wish, long, weep, beg, scream, shake (you – and them?), speak but only shout into the distance, only shout up against a rubber wall that bounces your words of concern and pain and fear and help and whatever it may be right back at your heart – where they metaphorically stab you and mock you with their futility.

And the love you want to give is lost somewhere.

Your loved one get relentlessly weaker with irresistible self-consuming power. And you are powerless. Love does not force or fight and does not demand to control another person’s choices. Love can not force another person to choose the healing of their body or to choose life. The pain-and-longing part of your heart, when you love someone who’s breaking, might for a time wish it could force it, but the very centre of love knows really that it cannot be forced.

And then you cry.

Even if you cannot and do not want to make them choose, you wish you could at least penetrate the rubber wall, so that love could be heard for a little while.

****

I’m in this situation right now, actually with two people dear to me, and I don’t know how to give love.

Ginny xxx

The guilt I feel when I’m met with no response – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3 part post. You can find Part 1 HERE

I wonder how much of my misinterpretation of emotional facial expressions is because the people I grew up with, my current family members and I myself express emotions in a different way from the typical?

It occurs to me that I’m told that often I show no emotion outwardly, or that people can’t work out what I’m feeling. In a family member’s words, “we just have to have some kind of reaction out of you,” and “we have no idea what on earth is going on with you so it feels like – aargh – we can’t be dealing with this!” I’m often told this when internally I’m having really strong emotions of loss, hurt, upset, abandonment and fear, and having flashbacks. Sometimes I’ve wanted to keep my emotions hidden. Almost always I’ve tried to turn my feelings inwardly so as not to bother or hurt anyone else with them.

However at the same time I’ve frequently thought other people understand what I’m feeling inside (but don’t want to discuss it so I just have to keep going) when it may later transpire they had no idea what I was feeling. I will then find it really hard to believe they had no idea. I will also be upset because my attempt to keep inside the sad feelings I have, to keep going as you’re meant to and not draw attention to myself, then backfired and seems to cause anger and upset and accusations of being childish, spoiled, rude or disrespectful, and of making other people responsible for me. People have said things like “It looks like you’re accusing me of not looking after you,” “I’m not responsible for how you feel,” “Its not anyone else’s job to make you feel better,” “You’re a spoiled little brat”; I’m told I have to stop thinking about my own problems, should push them aside, should think what other people have gone for me, etc. Which is often exactly what I’ve been trying to do and nearly broken under the strain. I don’t know how I get it so wrong. I don’t know what other people are seeing at these times that is childish or rude etc. If I did I would have some chance of correcting it.

This reminds me that as a child being abused, I was daily really distressed, inevitably expressed it (til I learnt better) and got no help. I was at best ignored. More often the punishments redoubled and threats got worse – more threats of how I was breaking up the family, of how the couple of people I had and loved would die because of me and graphically how I would find them, of how my parents would be taken away. I was told I was a liar, faking what I was feeling, behaving as I was in order to cause worry and hurt to my abuser, to punish them because in some way I didn’t get what I wanted. One of my abuser’s paranoia about us being watched increased too. Her bizarre, possibly psychotic behaviour, and ridiculing of me, came to the fore. I tried my hardest not to express any feelings, even physical feelings. When I got ill I was terrified what would happen when my abuser and others complicit in the abuse found out. Basically I got no response or a terrible response, and none of the help I needed, from my main abuser and the person enabling her.

Both my abuser when I showed my emotions as a child, and family members now when I try not to show my emotions, said/say that I am childish, spoiled and hurting others.

When I do express my emotions now, the reaction from my family is rarely positive. Occasionally it is, but often it isn’t. The fact that it fluctuates is really hard to deal with. But that’s another story for another post.

My abuser’s emotions could change in a couple of seconds so I had to be constantly on the alert and do what I could to stay safe. She was either emotionless in all her expressions, or furious, or distraught, or ridiculing me. Occasionally she was happy but you got the sense it was only on the surface and sometimes it seemed like a trick, especially when it quickly flipped to anger or ridicule. (Her severe psychotic episodes were somewhat different.) Whilst I had to be on the alert to her emotions, I didn’t learn anything from her about normal emotional expression.

My other immediate family members’ emotions are also hard for me to judge, in facial expressions and verbally. I can fail to spot the onset of anger with me. At other times I’m overwhelmed by how they express it. I often interpret anger when they are actually feeling concern or upset. I interpret disinterest or rejection when they say there is none there.

So…. on the whole that does seem quite messed up, doesn’t it!?

To be continued in Part 3 (which will be what I thought I was going to write about originally!)

The guilt I feel when I’m met with no response – Part 1

I was reading about how people with borderline personality disorder interpret emotion in facial expressions. I came across a study that had found that people with BPD are quite similar to people without any personality disorder in how we perceive emotions in facial expressions, however, those of us with BPD are likely to perceive neutral facial expressions as communicating “negative” emotions*. If someone is not displaying a positive feeling in their expression, we are likely to interpret a negative feeling. Of course, facial expressions are a somewhat personal and subjective thing. Additionally, I am not sure whether the finding was that we tend to interpret the perceived negative emotion as directed at us (eg the person is fed up with us) or as a non-personally-directed emotion (eg the person is sad, the person is frustrated after a bad day). Perhaps the study didn’t differentiate. I must try to revisit the study online and I’ll post a link in the comments if I find it.

Two things rang true to me. First I agree that I’m likely to infer from an expression that isn’t warm / positive that the person feels negatively. I’m not sure whether I actually see the expression as negative, or know it’s neutral (maybe “not letting anything on”) but a neutral expression for me means the person’s feeling is negative. Second, once I interpret a negative emotion (from whatever expression) I will usually be absolutely sure it’s directed at or because of me. Even if there are abundant clues that it’s because of something else, even if logically it can’t be because of me, this is my default assumption. Cue massive guilt and a desperate urgency to put things right. My first thoughts, my deepest emotions, my bodily reactions, are all based on that. Even flashbacks or memories involving deep guilt (where I know I hurt someone in the past) can follow.

This can all happen before any words are spoken.

However, I do the equivalent with speech and writing too. If anything is left open, ambiguous or ignored, I often feel I’ve done something wrong, or caused irritation or anger or displeasure, or that the person doesn’t believe me.

To be continued in Part 2.

* Note: by “negative” I mean feelings like sad, angry and so on. I don’t like using the word “negative” as it suggests something wrong with the feeling. This isn’t what I mean. All feelings are valid. I couldn’t think of another word. Perhaps “unhappy”?

Only sometimes – on uncertainty and friendships

I don’t think I cope well with “sometimes”.

In general, I don’t cope well with lots of uncertainties, or at least, not the same as other people do. It can be to do with situations and actions, like places I don’t know, or not being sure when I can leave a situation if I need to, or competing demands that mean I can’t give everything or everyone 100%, that can be scary. It can be when I’m trying to plan or decide something. So many different possibilities crowd my head and swim round, pulling me down til I can’t breathe and have to just stop because it’s too much to cope with. People on the outside of this see it as me being lazy or lacking any drive when inside I’m fighting the drowning. Above all it can be interpersonal yet related to what I am (where ultimately I can never ever be certain so always fear) , if people misunderstand me, if people perceive me or my actions very differently from what is going on inside me; worst of all the times I start to doubt my motivations, or intentions, what is most deeply in me really after all – the times I can never be certain enough that I’m not evil if I don’t punish and hurt myself, because the voice of my abuser always seems stronger and truer…

Other uncertainties don’t seem to bother me as much as other people suggest they should. I don’t know, for instance, what my work situation will be in a year, or 5 years. I don’t have a career plan set out. I have quite a lot of instability in this area, largely because of my current physical health. People have told me that it is wrong for someone of my age not to have ambition; that I’m irresponsible and spoiled; or the phrase that irritates me so immensely at the moment, that I have to be “moving forwards”. These uncertainties actually don’t seem to bother me as much as they bother other people. I do not want to be a burden, or unable to take responsibility for myself. I strongly want to be able to give. Beyond that, I don’t seem to have the plan that seems to be expected. Perhaps it’s because I have to take things a day or an hour at a time. It’s the only way to deal with the experiences and emotions I have right now and I have seen by God’s grace it can actually be a fruitful way; maybe the only fruitful way just now in my circumstances. Perhaps it’s because for so long I was numbed to what I was experiencing and feeling, and/or in the isolated world of my abuser’s creation and under her control, that I need to take things this way now. Perhaps it’s because seeing beyond this day or this hour really can be too much and too scary on the worst days, even inconceivable when everything is that much too raw (though, mercifully, these times have not been so intense recently). Perhaps it’s because I am encouraged by Our Lord’s assurance that it is not the grandeur and status of what we do but the love with which we do each and every deed that matters.

Where it comes to friendships, I really struggle with uncertainties and “sometimes”. It’s really important to me to be there for the other person. If I don’t hear from them, I worry a lot. I don’t form relationships easily and don’t let many people in. The people I do, I become attached to deeply. Certain people, occasionally, I come to care for deeply very quickly and trust them deeply, maybe too much too fast. Once I care for someone, I really want to support them, and I also really need them. It’s not needing them to do things for me constantly. I do not want to make demands. That’s actually something I feel very guilty if I do. It’s just – needing them. I need them there. I need to be there for them. I need things to be shared between us.

Because of this, I particularly struggle in relationships where  we are only in touch sometimes, only see each other sometimes. I see this is much more of a problem for me than other people. It’s as if I can’t cope with a relationship with gaps and breaks in the sharing. At the moment, I’m very upset over a relationship with a close – well, we used to be close, anyway – friend. We live in the same town but now see each other a handful of times a year if that. I saw her at the funeral last week but the last time we’d actually met before that was Easter. We text sporadically and email even less. From her point of view according to what she’s told me, nothing has changed between us, she still cares about me and it’s just a normal part of life and getting older that you no longer see friends often, she is busy with her family, Church, groups, volunteer work and other commitments and she just doesn’t have time to meet especially as my health means I can’t easily get out, and when we do meet however rare it is our friendship is the same. For me, everything has changed and our loss of contact is a huge hurt. There is a void for me because we no longer communicate to share what is happening in our lives. For me you cannot share across texts or emails what you can face to face. It’s just impossible to say a lot of the most painful things. It’s upsetting when I do share something upsetting, important or personal and there is just no response.

It would be a bit different if we had moved a long way away from each other and we had therefore built our relationship on sharing things in writing. The way it is, it feels like a loss. I don’t like to admit to it but it does feel that I’ve been rejected. It feels as if I’m trying all I can to be there, but she does not want me or need me and I do not fit in her life. It hurts more because it’s a time I am already feeling isolated, raw and need not to be alone. But there’s more to it than that. I risk acting as though I think she has an obligation to me or think she has to be doing things to help me. She really doesn’t and that’s not what I want.

I can’t cope with contact and sharing being only sometimes. With such absence and silence between times, the relationship is by no means the same to me. It almost hurts all the more when the other person then acts as though nothing has happened and the absence was unimportant or non-existent. This comes up again and again in relationships. Then I get told I’m too much, or that I need too much or expect too much from friends, that they are not my family and that they just can’t make that kind of commitment. I end up hurting even more than if the relationship had gone completely and I’ve probably ruined a lot of relationships because of it. Either I can’t take the pain or they can’t stand me and contact ceases totally.

Does anyone else find these “sometimes” relationships difficult? Do you maintain friendships where the contact you have is few and far between? If so does that change the friendship for you? Do others need people as I do? Need things to be shared?

Ginny xxx

 

 

Bob and me and why couldn’t I say “no”?

WARNING: this post contains a passing mention of self-harm thoughts and a very brief generalised mention of abusive relationships

I’m sorry for this ramble that isn’t necessarily of interest to anyone. I really have to get this out and there’s nobody I can talk to. Kinda wish I could call someone but I don’t want to be totally needy and a burden on people.

It’s Friday tomorrow, which means group therapy. I’m really nervous. It’s the first group therapy for about 3 weeks following the summer therapy break. After the last therapy break (over Christmas) I found it hard to engage with the group again, stay present to mentalise and keep safe between sessions. The main reason I’m nervous this time is something that has happened between me and someone else in the group. Let’s call him Bob. I know that what happened is going to be talked about in group (because I talked it over in my 1:1 session earlier this week and my therapist told me it also needs to be discussed in group).

There’s a rule that group members should not have contact outside the group. It’s accepted that chance meetings happen or that we may see each other when attending the same hospital or GP Surgery  or other places and we aren’t expected to ignore each other if this happens, but we are not supposed to arrange meetings. One reason for this is that we should not discuss what happens in group outside group where not all the members are present. In particular we should not talk about other group members and if group members felt they or their issues were being talked about, this could be very upsetting and damage trust between group members.

“Bob” and I sometimes bump into each other because we tend to head off in the same direction after group. We sometimes bump into each other in the supermarket or in town because sometimes we go to the same church. Small world and all that. At these times we’ve chatted and I never felt that was wrong. This has happened with other group members too; we’ve discussed it in group and everyone has felt that it’s okay when that happens. Some members live quite near to each other so it’s somewhat inevitable.

In early June, I talked a bit more to Bob whilst we were in the waiting room before group started, because he was going through some practical problems that I had also had experience of and I was glad to be able to suggest a couple of sources of support for him. Then Bob asked me to meet him for a drink. It was his birthday and I knew that he does not have any friends locally and had been through a rough time. Straight away I didn’t feel comfortable with this. It was breaking the group rule. It could be breaking other members’ trust. I felt this was different from all the previous times Bob and I had talked, because this wasn’t a question of bumping into each other or waiting in the same room together for appointments; it was going out of the way to arrange a meeting. I was straight away nervous about why he was asking me. Plus going for a drink with anyone is hard for me, especially someone I don’t really know very much. Crowded places and lots of unknowns are difficult for me, raising my anxiety. I didn’t want to say yes. But I was completely unable to say no. I knew he would feel hurt and rejected and upset. I would be being nasty and rude. There was just no way in my head I could say the “no” I wanted to.

[I’m scared…]

Instead, I agreed but gave the proviso that it definitely be a one-off, just for a drink because it was his birthday. I also said that I wanted to be very, very clear that this was as friends. I have a lot of issues of my own and I do not find relationships of any kind easy. I am not looking for anything more than friends and I would not be able to give to that kind of relationship what I would want to. I said I felt silly and awkward saying that but just to make sure there can’t be any confusion I wanted to say it outright. Bob said he totally understood that and he felt the same.

So we met for a drink one afternoon. Well, that was the agreement, I thought. Except that Bob made it dinner, one evening, at a restaurant. And he insisted on paying for me. And it wasn’t a one-off, because from there Bob contacted me more and more. He wanted to meet again and again. He told me more and more that he had been thinking about me and praying for me and that he thought I was a very special person. And every time, I didn’t want to. I wanted to say no. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. And we met again, then another time, then another.

[I’m so scared even writing this. I feel I can’t breathe. I’m twisted up inside. Why?]

I couldn’t say no but I hoped it would stop. I tried to say. I said I was worried for both of us – that we’d get worried about the other and not be able to tell anyone, that we’d share things that we really needed to talk about (in group or with our therapist) and we wouldn’t be able to, that I wanted to share our meeting with the group, that I didn’t think we needed to hide it, that I thought he was trusting me and thinking of me differently from everyone else in the group and that could be damaging, that he was sharing things with me and not with the group and that could be bad for him (and the group)… I said these things, I think. Yet I let them be quickly brushed aside. Bob wasn’t dismissive. He wasn’t typically pushy or crass. Somehow though, I let my concerns be put away by what he said in response and I didn’t follow them through.

It was evident he cared for me very much and thought well of me. A lot of it seemed to be true Christian care and prayer and friendship. However, I knew it went beyond that. If someone cares for me, it frightens me. Bob would say in group that he had been thinking about me and it scared me there too. I wasn’t the only person he’d say it about but he seemed to say it about me more than about others. I know I get scared about this kind of thing and it makes it hard to know (or hard to trust myself when I think I know) if the other person is caring about me in a normal way or if something is unusual.

Scared turned to terrified when he seemed to care for me obsessionally. It sounds wrong to say that. It sounds like he did something wrong. He didn’t hurt me. He didn’t force me. He did nothing wrong. That’s what makes this harder. He did nothing wrong and he is not a nasty person and he is a kind, caring, generous, Christian man. But his contact became more intense. Even how he looked at me. He’d watch me so intently. He’d comment on tiny things in my appearance and say he couldn’t get over them. He made a few comments that freaked me out, like that he couldn’t resist me if I had long hair, things about wanting cuddles, that I shouldn’t let my father know his age [Bob is substantially older than me but – what??!!]… I wanted to run. His texts got more frequent. Several times within an hour at the end. I knew I could not be what he thought I was and couldn’t give him what he needed.

In the end I was scared enough that he was obsessed with me that I stopped it. I checked out my feelings searching online to see if people can be obsessed with other people and if this happens in relationships, knowing the answer really but having to check out whether it is something bad and whether it can lead to worse – because I couldn’t trust myself. Partly because he really was being so “nice” and not doing anything wrong. As well, I was scared he was telling me things that he wasn’t telling the group. I was trying to encourage him to tell the therapists and tell the group. I knew too much about pressure he was under and danger he could be in and help he might need. I knew it wouldn’t be safe for either of us. I felt that whenever I ended it or whether I just let it carry on, I would end up letting him down and not being what he so much thought I was and he would get hurt and the longer it went on the worse it would be.

I couldn’t trust myself. I felt so strongly that there was a sexual or at least physical attraction undercurrent, that he was attracted to me, that he wanted more and wanted me to be something I never can be to him, that he was becoming what felt like obsessed with me. It is so obvious to me now and it scares me now and scared me then but for so long I couldn’t trust this instinct and end the relationship.

[I want so badly to cut. I won’t. I won’t. I am determined to sit with this and try to stay present to feel in group tomorrow and not numb everything down by self-harming.]

Though I was scared I don’t think he knew it. I don’t think he knew I was uncomfortable because I said nothing and pursued none of my objections. Actually, I was dishonest with him, in sharing time with him but actually wanting to get away whilst he thought we had a connection, or were sharing something important. I feel so guilty for that. But then, we did share something. We are both Christian and we spoke often of God and hope and mercy and that is something I cannot share so fully with many people. It’s something I don’t really talk about in group, not yet anyway, and it’s a different kind of conversation. Genuinely we did share that and it was good. It’s not black and white and I don’t blame him and he did not do anything bad or wrong.

I know a lot of my fear and my feelings came from triggers in our conversations and relationship which probably would not have been triggers to anyone else. To the next person perhaps it would have been easily passed off or nothing important. For me there were so many triggers to my emotions and behaviour that reminded me of when I was being abused. That sounds terrible to say. It makes it sound like he manipulated or took advantage of me. All he did was kind. Apart from me not wanting it and feeling we were deceiving people and feeling scared. He didn’t know. But it’s how I felt. I started behaving and thinking like I did in the abusive relationship. It’s why I couldn’t say no. It’s why my feelings totally disappeared for me in the sense that I dismissed them all and followed only what his feelings and his needs seemed to be. It’s why I couldn’t say no, couldn’t trust what I felt, wanted to run but it was utterly impossible to do anything about it. I fell into the same patterns of watching and silence and trying to get it right, perceive his needs and his emotions correctly, trying to save him and keep him from danger. His obsession with me and his need for me reminded me – in my emotions if not in facts – of the abuse too. When my abuser wasn’t threatening me she was attributing bizarre powers to me, largely perhaps stemming from her own delusions (or perhaps it was all part of the plan of the abuse), powers I did not have, powers that I was to have because I was born at a particular time because she had planned it for a reason; she’d watch me obsessionally and intently, she’d have me keep secrets… I ended up emotionally right back there when Bob talked about how good I am, how he thought about me, how important it was we shared these conversations separate from the group, how it should not be shared with anyone in group because that would get too complicated, when he so intensely contacted me and needed me.

When I did finally end it, I told the service because I was so afraid what Bob would do. I am not so arrogant that I think contact with me can matter that much to anyone, but I was sure that he’d interpret me ending our contact as total betrayal and breach of trust. I know those kind of feelings put him in danger, because of what he’s discussed with me both in group and outside. I didn’t want him to know I was scared, because of a particular thing he shared in group once. I thought for days about how to do it. I told the PD Service right away that I’d ended it and told them I thought he’d be in danger. If the service hadn’t been there and I hadn’t believed they could try to keep him safe, I would not have dared to end things.

I’m scared for group tomorrow. What’s going to happen. How it’s going to affect Bob when we have to talk about it. If I admit I wanted to stop the meetings, or that I had worries, it makes it sound like he forced me. He didn’t do anything to force me. So many times I could and should have said no. But I have to be honest. I’m scared how what’s happened will affect other people in the group and what they’ll feel. They may be hurt, they may feel betrayed, angry that rules have been broken and trust has been broken, they may think we were trying to do something in secret to exclude them. I think everyone will lose trust. I don’t know what Bob feels about it being discussed in group and I don’t really know what he feels about me having ended contact. I told him that I had told the service, but I don’t know what he feels really. I just feel so sure he feels totally betrayed. I’m scared he mightn’t come back to group. I’m mainly scared about him and about the rest of the group and how they’ll feel but I’m also scared how unable I was to act on my feelings and say no.

My head is imploding with all these feelings. Maybe I’ve really turned the proverbial molehill into a mountain but for some reason this whole situation is leading to really strong unbearable feelings for me. I’m fighting so so hard not to self-harm tonight. I’ve been trying self-soothing, trying to do creative things, trying to do practical things, hot drinks, texting a friend about something else, trying to take the focus away from the emotion and away from myself. Then I wrote this. In a minute I’m going to try a weird approach that just occurred to me – I’m feeling totally nervous and wound up so maybe if I watch a DVD that makes me just a little bit on edge and in suspense it’ll give another direction for the feelings and get some of them out. Not sure how that’ll go down and it’s just a thought that occurred to me, but here goes! A couple of episodes of Grimm should do nicely.

Ginny xxx

Broadband is on the way

Today my support worker helped me arrange getting the internet set up at home. Since I moved in I’ve been relying on the internet in the staffroom at work, on my mobile and in cafes with free WiFi.

It’ll be a huge bonus to have this sorted. I won’t be so slow on replying to your lovely comments! I’ll be much more able to take time to read your blogs. At the moment I feel bad that whilst I write and I really am thankful for the time you all take visiting here, I am not able to reciprocate properly because of my limited internet access. You are so supportive and I feel that you are becoming my friends and I’ll be very happy to be able to be more in touch and read your news.

I’ve shied away from getting the internet at home because of adding the cost of another direct debit to my already dreadful finances. However, my electricity and gas supplier offered me a good deal for supplying broadband and a phone line for the next 18 months. My support worker H has helped me compare some different price options and we figured out that this would actually be cheaper than what I’m spending to get online currently. I’m currently paying extra on my mobile phone bill every month as I have to “bolt on” more data when I go over my allowance. Also wifi may be free in cafes but sitting in the cafe is not as you have to buy something.

Again it was invaluable to have H’s help as making the call to get everything set up and choosing between the different packages on offer was overwhelming. I don’t trust my ability to choose and I panic and find it very hard to hold on to all the facts and numbers in my head. My brain just seems to freeze when the provider speaks so quickly on the phone about unfamiliar terms and charges. I either blank totally or my thoughts and emotions spiral out of control. It really helped having my support worker there to do some of the conversation and to check things with and to help me work out the figures.

So in all, I’m looking forward to being online some time in the next two weeks. I have to wait for the engineer to call to arrange installation.

Ginny xxx

Not being there

In the past few weeks I have been struggling more physically with a lot of pain, exhaustion and several viruses one after the other not helping. I’m learning slowly to not get frustrated or panicked when there are things I just can’t do at the moment. This is a very slow process of learning about what I can do – it’s been over 15 years now since my physical health conditions started. It still makes me feel very useless when I compare myself with other people and see how much less I seem to manage to achieve day to day than they do and comments that bring it home, deliberate or not, hurt.

However the hardest part is feeling that I can’t be there for other people (friends, family, people I work for, and so on) in the way I would like to. At the moment I manage to work part time. Usually after work I am exhausted and dealing with too much pain to do anything else. I get behind on simple things like housework. I’m behind on replying to comments and messages on here – I’m really sorry all the more because I am grateful for the time you take to stop by and read and comment and you are all far more supportive to me than I manage to be to you. I had to stop most of the voluntary work I used to do and I feel I’m not there for my friends or family in the way I’d like to be. Most live a long way away and the journey can usually be too much, plus I can’t even write or telephone as I’d like to when I’m very low physically or mentally.

I really feel like I’m selfish and should push harder (though I know I can’t) and that I’m really failing in friendship. Even in my dreams – which have been really disturbing lately – there seems to be a theme of not being able to help people or watching bad things happen to people and screaming out but not being able to stop it and the not being able to stop it comes with a sense of horror and judgment on myself that lasts quite some time after waking.

I try to take courage from remembering that it’s not grand accomplishments that are necessary and even little actions done with love and care can be meaningful even if we don’t see how they are at the time. I don’t have a high powered or even full time job but in the work I do I can still do it with dedication and care and going that bit further to help those I’m serving (literally, since I work in a shop!).

But when it comes to not being able to be present in the way I should be for others in relationships – I’m not giving the time or the help I should in practical ways – I feel I’m failing. However much I care for someone, if I can’t do the practical things (visiting, writing, helping and being there when they need it) then aren’t I really failing, from their point of view?

I know we don’t earn a genuine friendship any more than we earn God’s love. We aren’t loved by God because of what we do or because we have earned it or made ourselves successful or good enough. We are loved, still in our weakness, because His nature is loving. The more we admit our need for Him the more He fills us with His love. The good we do is the work of His love through us and every little act and prayer we offer is this love, gives this love to other people and gives love back to Him. “We love because He loved us first.” He even says it is by this love we will be known – people will say, “see these Christians, how they love one another.” In their work with the poorest people, Mother Teresa’s nuns made it their aim not to begin by preaching but by care, love and selflessness in their actions. If someone asked them why they acted as they did, then they would speak about the Love that led them to it.

Actions aren’t what make us good or acceptable people, though I can certainly tend to feel that. They are the fruit of being loved and wanting to love. But what if I can’t do the things that are needed and expected in friendship, that bring care and support to the other person and show to them that I care? In the past I’ve even ended relationships because I’ve felt so strongly that I’m not a real friend because I can’t be there as the other person needs. Recent ways relationships (one or two in particular) have gone wrong because (I think) the other person doesn’t find anything good in the relationship and thinks I need too much, make me think this even more.

Perhaps it’s something to discuss in therapy group.

Ginny xxx

“When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Then again, if one door closes when another one opens, your house is probably haunted.

“When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Then again, if one door closes when another one opens, your house is probably haunted.

What a week of decisions and emotions rocketing out of control.

I resigned from my job on Wednesday. (My post “not working out” explains some of the reasons behind this.) It has to be one of the hardest decisions I have made and I can only begin to describe the feelings around it. It wasn’t a hastily made decision and came after months of trying to make things better and stay in my job. I am very sad because I had wanted to stay in that role for a long time. I wanted to be able to give back to the firm, to thank them for keeping me on after I was off sick with three hospital admissions at the end of last year and in January 2015 and for letting me come back part time (in principle at least). I owed them. Also as I am longing for some stability and security. Also because I had met two colleagues who were very special and I felt privileged to work with them, clicheed as that may sound. They were kind and compassionate and thinking and brought something much needed, special and rare to the team. I learned from them. I really hope we stay in touch.

Having said that, I do know I feel that this choice is going to be better for my health. I have had to leave jobs before, but it has been a question of giving up at the point I am totally exhausted and cannot cope anymore, my health is spiralling down (well that part still applies, I guess!) and have lost all hope and there just seems to be nothingness. This time, it doesn’t feel like nothing. Making this choice, I have borne in mind being able to be stable and being able to find a job I can sustain whilst also having some balance in my life – being able to do some work but also not being so utterly drained from coping with it that I can’t do anything else (I stop eating properly, can’t look after my home, don’t do housework, cut myself off and have even less contact with friends than I usually do, can’t manage my finances because I’m so vulnerable to giving in to impulsivity). I have also borne in mind being able to fully participate in the treatment programme I’m in at the moment – getting to appointments, being able to be present in them not having to keep part of me shut off because I will not be able to bear the pain of openness and exposure necessary to examine thoughts and emotions and relationships, if I am then to rush back to work afterwards and somehow keep it together.

Admitting my limitations and my fragility at the moment takes humility and trust in the support systems that are there at the hospital community team and willingness to make myself vulnerable in order to begin to learn. Knowing what I fear, what I love, what I care about, what I struggle with, what I feel, what I think; learning to understand what is in other people’s minds and hearts and how to be able to reach out and walk forward, to respond to what I feel from them without being terrified or crushed and without the spiralling storms of thoughts in my head obsessionally spinning, trying to prevent disaster…. This takes energy, hope and a space in which it is possible to be vulnerable but not crushed and somehow also hold on to hope despite knowing all I cannot, at the moment, do.

I feel so many things right now. The actual meeting on Wednesday was made much easier for me than I thought that it would be. I was surprised to encounter compassion I did not expect. I was pleased to find that there is someone who has come as a temp into my post and who seemed very calm and very nice, so I know that the team I used to work for do have secretarial help. I was very thankful to get to speak to two colleagues in particular – and I really, really hope that we will be able to stay in contact – and to leave a couple of notes. I was reassured to be able to “hand over” on a few points of work  to be assured that things will not be lost or forgotten (though as ever I’ve remembered so many more things I should have let people know – where things are kept, where things are up to, etc, etc!).

It was a very very hard day with the highest anxiety for a long length of time that I have experienced for a while. I cried a lot. I walked a lot, trying to stay out of the flat where I’d be alone, to at least be around people if not with anyone, because I would be less likely to crumple completely that way and give in to the self-destructive urges.

It was done.

And somehow I did get through that night to the next morning, even though it was one of those nights where I hurt so much it blacked out everything else. I know it sounds so terribly ridiculous writing this. So childish and stupid and self-centred and incapable. It is no disaster or tragedy and it is a very very little thing in the scheme of things. Everyone else will move on in an instant. Yet that is the reality of what these things are for me at the moment. I am ashamed afterwards and feel ridiculous thinking how much I felt it would be impossible for emotion to pass but at the time it is absolutely that complete and total that it as if a cloud or a wall has fallen over every other factor in my world, enclosing me in spiralling thoughts and plunging emotions and frightening voices.

***

I can’t really describe what I’m feeling now. After the meeting on Wednesday, more happened, which left me feeling further conflicted and intensifying the guilt I feel over leaving and that I really should have been able to keep doing it. I think these will have to wait for another post.

This week there were many little gifts too. I started applying for other jobs. It is incredibly fortunate that I came to my decision at the time that there is an abundance of Christmas work which gave me more hope of being able to find something, at least temporary. Trying to keep focus I took a deep breath and a lot of coffee (not at exactly the same time 😉 ) and redid my CV, walked round town to clock the job adverts in windows and shopping centres and made several applications. Thanks be to God that once I had got over the initial frozen feeling (which was a hard fight) it was not as awful as I had felt it would be.

My confidence is very low right now and I was so frightened walking in to shops to give my applications, actually physically feeling I was shaking. It was not helped by a couple of very difficult experiences. I went into one store to give in my application and went up to the two assistants who were chatting to each other. Instantly I felt incredibly intimidated and uncomfortable and that they thought I was ridiculous. Swallowing my feelings I spoke with the supervisor and handed in my application and she told me she would pass it on to her manager and I thanked her and turned to leave.  As I was walking out I am certain that she and her colleague burst into laughter and made comments about me. I was shaken, not least because instantly I did not know, had that actually happened? Had they actually laughed and teased or had I imagined it and heard it all in my head because I was so much expecting that to be what people would really think of me? I still have no answer. I am just trying not to think of it.

That one clearly was not going to go forward, but I did have some better news and was extremely surprised and thankful to be offered two interviews, including one for a sales assistant in a department store. The selection process was scary for me because after quite in-depth online testing it involved a group task assessment as well as individual assessment. Though I did not feel that I had done well and looking back, could see so many things I had done wrong and ways I should have responded differently – and again, so many ways people would see how stupid I am – I did also somehow manage to enjoy some of it and enjoy being with the people I met, which had to be a good sign, I thought. It suggested I would find some common ground with colleagues and be able to interact with them. It was interesting too. The managers who were present seemed supportive and one was even encouraging when I needed to discuss my health/disability needs – straight away she said that she thought it would certainly be possible to adjust my hours so that I could attend all my hospital appointments.

A couple of days later, I was absolutely astounded to receive a conditional offer! In a very hard week this was a very precious gift! Not least because this means that things will not be completely terrible financially in the next few weeks, though this is a major source of anxiety, both because I will be working fewer hours so managing with a much lower salary, and because in times of distress and anxiety I can be much less able to resist the impulsive urges that come as part of BPD, and one area in which I can be far far too impulsive and irresponsible is spending money.

I still cannot believe it and it does not seem real and I do not think I will quite dare to count on it until I actually get to my first day. I’ve been completing the final questionnaires and going through the health screen, which was much less uncomfortable than I had expected – I’ll post about that another day soon because it certainly was food for thought – and was passed fit with a couple of suggested “reasonable adjustments”.

I thank the Lord for this opportunity. Yet again, it is a situation I did not think I would be in, which I really did not want to come to. Something I really counted on – being able to have a little bit of trust that I could do my work and do a good job and try to please and help people – was taken away and even seemed never to have been real, when I discovered how poorly everyone thought I was performing and how little they thought I could cope. But there is a better way forward being illuminated bit by bit and right now (since this is a moment of relative rationality!) I can remember that we may not be where we planned to be, but we are right where God needs us to be.

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I hope it will be a French window because otherwise it’ll be a bit tricky to walk through, not that I’d complain at this point.

Ginny xx

(Title – first line from “The Sound of Music”; second line adapted from a funny meme someone sent me a while back – I am not sure whose was the original idea.)

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

I apologise for not writing this Part 2 yesterday as hoped.  I had a weekend away for a very dear friend’s 80th birthday. It was special and lovely but I was very drained when I got home and I did not manage to write. I’m sorry.

***

I am starting to realise that it is terribly difficult for me when I realise that my thoughts or emotions are different from someone else’s about a certain situation or matter.  It could be about a particular situation or experience we are both sharing in right now, or a memory of something that happened before, or a matter of belief (religious belief, a principle, that kind of thing), or any case of sensing someone’s strong emotion. It was my therapist and someone else in a therapy group I’m part of who identified this first, then went on to identify that this difference of emotion/thought between individuals is another instance of uncertainty we must learn to sit with.

I sense other people’s emotions more strongly than my own. I find it hard to identify and name my own emotions. When I do feel them they can be very frightening and overwhelming; I may feel them so strongly that they block out anything else, becoming to me everything that there is, frightening me about what will happen and what it means about who I am. They can feel as if they physically pain me. I may feel physically utterly drained or consumingly panicked and driven, unable to sit still, pacing constantly for hours (compulsively, despite the physical pain this causes by aggravating my joint conditions). Times of overwhelming emotion are times I often self-harm.

Other times, I may feel numb and nothing at all. I may be painfully conscious that the other people I’m interacting with feel very strongly but I feel unable to reach out, to come to any connection with them. I may want to say something and know I should and know I should and want to empathise, but feel frozen and unable to respond, and know that by this I am hurting the other person still further.

Or, despite not knowing at all what I feel, I may feel the other person’s emotion (especially sadness, anxiety or anger) so strongly that beyond what I think would be described as empathy, I actually feel their emotion myself to a level that I cannot stand it. It can happen very fast and I do not make any conscious decision or any particularly strong attempt to pick up the emotion. It just happens. Sometimes, I have as little as passed people on the street, sat beside someone on the bus or had a minimal “meeting and greeting” interaction on the reception at work, and this wave or wall of emotion will hit me and stop me in my tracks. I passed someone on the street the other day and was suddenly hit by a wall of such strong anger and hurt that I stopped walking. It was like a physical presence around me and in my lower chest and I gasped and this was swiftly joined by extreme fear. The person had done nothing to me, not even noticed me nor interacted in any way.

A couple of people who share my religious faith have told me that it is a particular gift to be able to empathise to a particularly great extent – it could allow me to help someone, be there for them, pray for them, understand their needs, know if they are in danger, and so on. I think perhaps it can be a gift and could be something from which good can come. Not that I think I have any particular ability, certainly not any power, but it is a sensitivity that could lead to good.

The problem is the intensity is so great it is frightening – as frightening as my own emotions can me. It can be there to such an extent that I can no longer continue to be with the person / people, and withdraw completely in exhaustion and confusion and fear and feeling huge guilt that I cannot resolve what is happening to the person and can’t be sure – there’s the uncertainty again! – is it my fault they feel this way and how should I respond? Then I end up back in the numb place of then not knowing how to respond and not being able to give anything at all.

Whichever of these happens, I’m left unable to interact socially. I haven’t yet unpicked quite why sitting with the uncertainty of the differences and unpredictability of emotions between people is so very frightening and overwhelming to me.  However it does seem to be shared by several people I know who suffer with personality disorder.

A particular problem where thoughts, emotions, intentions and communication are involved is that you can never check enough. You can never get to be completely sure what the truth is and what is right or wrong and if you are good or bad.

In Part 1 of this post, I gave some examples of other kinds of anxieties in situations of uncertainty. All of these are around things that are more concrete, if that is the right word, where eventually you will find out some answer.  For example, to go back to the same examples I gave: tomorrow will come and I will find out what will happen, I can ask my friend which colour she prefers and be sure to choose the mug that colour, and in time I will eventually find out the interviewer’s opinion of me and whether I get the job or don’t. If I’m trying to overcome an obsessional activity or belief, for example, if I don’t wash my hands 10 times before I speak to my friend she will get sick because of me, it is possible to test out this belief in the concrete world – it will be extremely distressing to me at first and cause a huge amount of anxiety, but I can if I dare to, not wash my hands 10 times the next time I speak to my friend and see what happens. If she does not get sick, and if I dare to keep testing this out, eventually perhaps I may be able to see that I do not need to keep doing this ritual to keep my friend safe and I will be able to stop washing my hands so much. I have suffered and still do suffer to some extent with this kind of obsessional checking and in the past, CBT therapy I’ve tried has focussed on changing behaviour and seeing that the awful things I fear do not come to pass.

But where the internal world of thoughts and feelings are concerned, I find it is not possible to check or “see what happens” in the same way and I never find peace.

For example, in the above instance I can see at least to a large extent without doubt that my friend does not get sick physically. But if I am fearing that I have hurt someone emotionally, how can I be sure? If I ask them, how can I be sure they are not just saying something to reassure me? If I think that someone is having a particular thought or a particular emotion, can I be sure that I got it right? Often it’s harder to ask in these situations (and I suppose I feel that it would be socially inappropriate to do so in many situations – I don’t want to inconvenience other people with my own obsessions and fears). If I say something, can I be sure that the other person understood it the way I meant it?

Often, if I have said something that I intend as encouraging, helpful, etc, I worry afterwards that I have communicated a message that I did not intend, which is bad and that is going to be terribly hurtful and upsetting to the other person because they will get that message rather than the one I intended. Then I worry that I actually, unbeknown to myself, subconsciously intended and thought the bad interpretation, and that’s why I said what I did. This must show that I’m actually evil and nasty and need to punish and hurt myself to make sure I don’t hurt anyone else. Then I will self-punish or self-harm. For example, a friend was worried about her baby girl who could not be with her during her medical appointment, and was instead with a babysitter in the waiting room outside. I said to her something like, “It looks like she is with someone who’s looking after her very well,” intending to reassure my friend that her baby was well. Immediately I’d said it, I panicked that this sentence could have implied “she’s with someone who’s looking after her well, because you don’t” and that my friend would think I was saying that she didn’t look after her baby properly. And my mind spiralled out of control thinking that although I didn’t know it, I was really being nasty to my friend and judging her as a bad mother and my intention, although I thought that I wanted to encourage my friend, was actually to upset her because I’m such a bad person inside. I wanted to check with my friend and say, oh no no I didn’t mean this, I meant… etc, etc, but I didn’t dare to, in case that would only make it worse, because if she had not seen the bad interpretation, it would only make it even worse to mention it. I felt the desperate urge to self-harm immediately to punish myself for being so bad inside.

In these kind of instances, nothing whatever will ever reassure me as to what my intention or thoughts really were (whereas, in the earlier example about obsessional hand-washing, I could obtain the concrete proof that my friend did not get sick). There is no way to check for certain what my real intention was, that it is not unconsciously something terrible which I’m not aware of and can’t control. There is no way to check for certain what effect emotionally I’ve had on someone else, or what they have understood from something I have said.

So I don’t know what the way out is.

For some reason, self-harm does seem to be the only (maladaptive) way that I do cope with this kind of uncertainty. When I can’t check enough that I’m not actually doing bad, or intending bad, then I have to hurt myself. The one thing that does seem sure is that if I’m doing something to hurt myself, it will somehow keep other people safe, because I can make sure I’m hurting myself, not other people. I can make sure I’m punishing the evil greedy part inside me so that it doesn’t burst out.

I don’t know how to begin to deal with these kinds of uncertainty. In time I think I am going to give this a Part 3, to look at ways of trying to sit with uncertainty in communicating with people. I’ve a feeling that it’s going to be an important part of my therapy as so much of my interpersonal problems, and perhaps for others with personality disorders too, are connected to these themes.

Thank you for reading, as ever.  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences and what you find good, or difficult, in interactions with others and in communicating about emotions.

Also, an important note: I know that in this article, I have contrasted examples of anxieties and obsessional thoughts surrounding what I have referred to as things I can check in the concrete, external world, with obsessional thoughts and fears about what is going on in one’s head / emotionally / internally. I say that it is harder for me to find the way out of the latter obsessional thoughts and fears. Please note that in no way do I wish to belittle or minimise the distress experienced by those who are struggling with OCD thoughts and actions and fears relating to the external world, for example checking doors or switches, or cleaning. I know from my own experience and from hearing loved ones’ experiences, that these struggles are deeply distressing and the thoughts just as consuming. I empathise very much with what you are going through. All I wished to do here is draw a distinction which I have come to in my own mind and to suggest that the way out of the two sides of these obsessional thoughts may perhaps be different. As I’ve said from the start, I am neither a clinician nor medically trained, and these are just my own thoughts.

Ginny xx

Sitting with uncertainty

“Sitting with uncertainty” is a phrase I first heard one of the psychologists for whom I used to work use.  The department that we worked in was going through a lot of change at the time and I think we were all anxious about what was to come – changes to our jobs, changes to service users’ treatment plans, worries over how we would continue to give good care and whether or not the changes would bring good.

As we talked, it struck me it is a challenge and a skill valuable to acquire across so many fields of life, particularly therapy and social interaction. It is a theme coming out prominently in my therapy at the moment.

I like the phrase “sitting with”, in particular, as it describes living in/with and encountering uncertainty without judging or supposing a particular response.  We might more commonly think of “resolving” uncertainty, “dealing with” uncertainty and so on.  However, sometimes it simply is not possible to do this. We cannot find a definitive answer, we may not be in a position to change (at least certain aspects of) our situation, or we may not yet, or even never, be able to be “sure”. Especially in interpersonal sharing of values and thoughts and emotions. Then, we might also commonly talk about having to “accept” uncertainty and say we have to learn to do this as part of growing up.  However, can we always do this? Perhaps often we feel that we cannot truly accept it, for instance, because it may be intensely uncomfortable, or something we really wish was not there, or something we feel frantically, painfully driven to eliminate. Hence, I like the words “sitting with”, because it describes the situation and at the same time acknowledges there may not be a resolution and attaches no judgement or obligation to either resolution/removal or acceptance.

In the language of the MBT therapy I am participating in at the moment, perhaps we would say it describes the situation and allows us to explore or be curious about the existence of the uncertainty.

I’m starting to be more alert at identifying uncertainty, and it’s effects on me.  It’s clear there is uncertainty about events that have not yet happened (I can’t be certain what will happen tomorrow), or that we do not know about (I can’t be certain if my friend would prefer me to buy the pink or the red mug for her birthday because I don’t know which is her favourite colour), or that are for now out of our control (if I have just had an interview and I know I did my best, but it’s now with the interviewer to make their decision, I can’t be sure if I will get the job or not).  And so on.  These are just some categories that sprung quickly to my mind which I think we might recognise are particularly difficult for someone who suffers a lot of eg anxiety or depression. For example, if we have a sense of dread something awful is going to happen, we might be terrified about what will happen the next day.  If we are socially anxious we might worry a lot about doing or saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone or being thought stupid because we do the wrong thing. If we are desperately seeking a job and have had lots of rejections we might feel very low waiting for the outcome of an interview and frightened about what will happen if the interviewer thinks we are rubbish and we don’t get the job.

It took me longer to consciously recognise how much uncertainty is going on all the time, particularly interpersonally, and how much – even though I did not recognise it – this affects me.  This kind of uncertainty seems to me to be a difficulty often encountered by people with personality disorders like me, and no doubt, many sufferers of anxiety or other conditions as well.

There is just so much that it is not possible to be certain of. This can be a frightening thing to me.

If we are speaking to someone, can we really be sure that the meaning they have understood is exactly the same as the one we intended? Probably not – every person expresses him/herself differently, and words hold different connotations for all of us in different situations. Could there be implications in what we have said that we did not intend, but that the other person infers? Probably. Could this hurt or offend the other person? Possibly. (For example, if I come home after work and my sister is sitting in the living room reading a book. I say, “Oh dear, this room is a bit of a mess.” I could be thinking that I really left it in a tip that morning because I rushed out to work late, and I shouldn’t have done that. If my sister were already feeling guilty that she had intended to tidy up that afternoon but had not been able to because she hadn’t felt well, she might make the interpretation that I had been intending to imply, “Why haven’t you tidied up, you’ve been at home all day whilst I was out at work?” It would not have been my intention, but she might have taken that understanding, and so without intending it I could have upset her. And if I then realised that, I would feel bad that I should have chosen my words more carefully or not said anything at all.

If we have an emotional reaction to a comment, an event, a situation and so on, can we be sure whether we should communicate it? What effect communicating it , or not, may have on another person? Can we be sure what their emotional reaction really is, and whether they are being open about how they feel? What if we feel something very different from what they do? Does that make us wrong? Or stupid, or bad, or… the list goes on. How do we respond, what do we do, when our emotional reaction or our thoughts are very different from everyone else’s? Does that mean there is something wrong with us?

And the ever, unanswerable, uncheckable, frightening question – have I done something to hurt someone? Am I really evil inside? Have I done any good, even though I think I want to, have I done good or have I done bad? Have I done something awful without knowing? Does everyone know I’m bad really and I just fool myself if I ever think I do good? Is there a terrible evil thing in me that I can’t control? We don’t always know even what we ourselves think or feel or intend – do we? Can we ever be sure enough that we are good not bad?

It is much, much harder to ever definitively answer these questions than it is to answer some of the other kinds of obsessional thoughts or anxieties which have a more “external” or “practical” element.

In part 2 of this post, coming soon (tomorrow, I hope!) I will continue with this thought to describe some of the thought processes and actions that this then triggers off in my personality disorder, and to think about how to learn to sit with these kinds of uncertainties.

…..More soon!….

Ginny xx