Small Steps Towards Healthy Boundaries

Today was a good day. I managed to do a few things that I wanted to, and my mood has been relatively stable. I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t depressed or sad. Not empty either. Just normal. I can’t remember ever feeling like this. Perhaps the mood stabilizer is finally working. Whatever it is, after the depression that has been hanging around for the past month or so, this is a welcome relief. And I’m so incredibly grateful for it.

In my New Year post, I mentioned my goals for 2017. And today I’ve been thinking about my goal of setting healthy boundaries.

Boundaries have always been hard for me. I didn’t realize just how much, until I started therapy. At first, the boundaries in the therapeutic relationship made me feel hurt, angry and confused. But through the months, I’ve found that they provide me with a sense of safety and structure. My therapist knows I can cope with my emotions, and that I can deal with things that come up in my life. Hell, I’ve gotten through 32 years without her. Through some of the worst and most traumatic moments of my life, with little or no support. So I don’t need her to constantly be there for me. Besides, If I start to rely on her all the time, I’ll eventually stop putting in the effort of caring for myself. That being said, I still sometimes get annoyed with the boundaries, but those moments are few and far between. So this is an example of me needing to be respectful of other people’s boundaries. Which I’ve become quite good at. It’s not perfect, but still a big improvement.

Then there are my personal boundaries. And this is where I struggle the most. I’ve been trying to become aware of my limits. What makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m still in the learning stage. But we have to start somewhere right? I need to start putting myself first more often. One of my current problems is discovering a boundary I need to set, but then being unable to fully implement it. I feel bad and guilty about having that boundary up. If someone pushes a little, I cave. But I can’t expect myself to become perfect at setting and sticking to them overnight. So I’m not going to be too hard on myself.

I came across this inspiring Ted talk today. It was just what I needed to hear.

Making Progress Even When You Can’t See It

A few sessions ago, I told my therapist that I finally felt like I was making progress. That therapy is finally helping me. She jokingly asked me if I was saying that therapy hasn’t helped me before that? I told her that the seeds had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been aware of the growth until now.

Often, we don’t see the progress we have made. Hell, we may even feel like we’re just moving backward. And sometimes that’s the truth. We take a step forward, only to move two steps back. But that’s okay. That’s the thing with mental illness. There are no quick fixes. The road to recovery isn’t straight and easy. It takes a lot of work, and there will be relapses and set backs. It’s completely normal, even though it can be extremely frustrating.

When I do something different to how I would have done it in the past, Therapist will point it out and tell me to look at the growth I’ve made, and how far I’ve come. Most of the time I don’t even see what’s right in front of me, due to the negative way I tend to see myself. Other times when she points these things out to me, it fills me with a sense of pride. Because at that moment, I can see it. All the little things I do differently. All the ways in which I have improved. They’re there. I just need to open up my eyes.

If you feel like you’re not making any progress, take a look back, and you might be surprised to find that you have indeed made progress. Small steps in the right direction. When I’m in crisis, and I feel I’m getting worse or therapy isn’t working, and I just want to give up, I like using the DBT skills from the Distress Tolerance (Crisis Survival Skills) module. The Distract Skill, which is broken down into ACCEPTS as follows:

Activities – Find an activity you can get lost in.
Contribute – Help someone else. Contribute in any way you can, such as smiling at a stranger.
Compare – Compare your past self with your present self.
Emotions – Try to find a way to switch into a different emotion. Through music for example.
Pushing Away – If you can’t solve a problem right then and there, pick that problem up and imagine putting it into a box. Place it on a shelf until you’re in a better space to deal with it.
Thoughts – Name things around you. Or breathe in a word, and choose another word for the out breath.
Sensations – An ice cold shower, or lying on cold tiles seems to do the trick for me. Or if it’s raining, I stand in the rain until I’m shivering. Eat or drink something bitter or sweet. Anything that engages one or more of your senses is helpful.

I use the ‘Compare’ part quite often now. Looking at my past self, and comparing that to how I am now. It’s a very good way to see the little bits of progress I have made. It helps get me out of that crisis state, and into what Marsha Linehan (the creator of DBT) calls Wise Mind. Writing down all the improvements. It’s not easy in those moments of intensity, in the midst of the emotional storm, but once started, and written down, I usually find that storm start to slowly die down a little. Because then my mind is engaged in the current task. A positive task. Something that isn’t harming me.

Just as a side note. Using these skills in the heat of an emotional storm is difficult. Mostly because you won’t always remember them. At least that’s the case with me. So it’s important to write these skills down, along with a list of what you feel would help you in each of those ‘catagories’ during these difficult moments.

Right now, I’m treating myself to a delicious, creamy mug of hot chocolate to celebrate the ways in which I have grown over these past few months. It’s my special treat for a job well done. And even though I still have a long way to go, that doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate the little steps I have already made.

So go on and treat yourself to something you enjoy, or that warms your heart. You deserve it.

The Question Of Sexuality

I’ve received a few emails by some of my amazing followers (aka: my people), regarding my sexuality. So I thought I’d write a post for those who are curious.

I’ve never liked labels. I never identified myself as straight, lesbian, bisexual or any of those labels. Firstly, because I was confused about my sexuality, and secondly, because it filled me with shame and embarrassment.

I remember when I first started therapy. We got on the subject of sexuality, and I told my therapist that I don’t know what I am. What I identify as. I’ve read that those of us with BPD struggle with our sexuality. So that made perfect sense. It was the story of my life.

But over the past few years, I’ve started realizing that it doesn’t matter. Why should it matter who we love? After all, isn’t it the soul that attracts us the most? And if it’s purely physical, is it really love? To me, it isn’t about the outer shell, but rather what’s inside. It’s not about the body. It’s about connecting to the soul. It’s a deep soul connection.

I’m a human. Not a label. I’ve never been opposed to falling in love with a male. I actually used to wish I would. Just so I could conform to society’s norm. But fuck the norm. Why shouldn’t love be the norm, and not the form that love takes?

Over the years, I’ve only fallen in love with two women. My ‘first love’, which was never actually a relationship in the first place. And now, my current girlfriend. I’ve been attracted to guys, sure, but I never felt that connection with them. They always felt like brothers or just friends.

An example is my first ‘real’ boyfriend. I just wanted to be friends with him, but every time we’d go out he’d ask me to be his girlfriend. I would always turn him down, but he never got the picture. Until one day, I just gave in and said “okay”. I liked him. I sometimes thought I might be falling in love with him. But the truth was, I saw him more as a good friend, and sometimes even a brother. Which confused me a lot. Especially when it came to the physical intimacy.

In my early twenties, there was another guy I liked. I thought I was in love with him. We had only gone out once. I was friends with his sister, which is how we met. One night we all went out to a bar, and I went to go order drinks with my friend. When I got back to the group, I saw him making out with another girl. My heart broke. I downed my drink, and went back for another one. And another. But the next day, I was over it and realized I wasn’t actually in love with him. I was just lonely and desperate. I had just been trying to conform. To force myself to feel something for someone because he was a he and not because I liked him as a person. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really even like his personality. He was a complete moron.

Why should labels exist? The answer: They shouldn’t. It’s not an illness. We’re all human. Our sexual orientation doesn’t make us who we are.

With my current girlfriend, I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I was happy being single. Sure, I got lonely, but it didn’t make me want to get on the relationship bandwagon again. So I didn’t expect things to go the way they did, and to feel this way about her.

I used to wonder… Am I the way I am, because of the trauma I experienced? Or is it simply how I’ve always been? I can’t tell, because some things happened before I reached the age where children start becoming interested in boys or girls. I didn’t have a stable mother figure in my life, and I had bad experiences with men. But it’s not something that bothers me anymore. I don’t care either way, I just thought it was an interesting train of thought.

The way I see it, is that at the end of the day, love is love, no matter how you look at it. It’s two people who care deeply about one another. Who connect on an intimate level.

That’s all that matters.

Nature’s Gentle Healing

I went to my favourite spot on the beach yesterday. After a really bad few weeks, I needed to just get away from everything and everyone, if only for a little while.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I live in a beautiful city with plenty of sandy white beaches, green parks and spectacular mountains. Amazing scenery no matter where you look. Yet, I’ve been neglecting a crucial part of myself. The part that feels content in nature. The soul that draws strength from natural beauty. Despite my best intentions when I moved here to connect to that part of myself more often, I haven’t spent much time outdoors.

I had been feeling especially depressed the whole of last week, but on Thursday morning, it was even worse. I had this intense desire to just stay in bed. To not go into work. But my rational mind told me that it wouldn’t be a smart move, since I’m still new there. So, with great difficulty, and fighting between the emotional and rational mind, I somehow managed to drag myself to work. I found myself wondering how this could be so damn difficult. Even putting one foot in front of the other was a challenge.

As the morning progressed, I felt myself becoming more and more unstable. I even started crying at a harmless comment made by the lady training me. I can’t even remember what she had said. I had no rational reason for crying. It was so embarrassing, but in that moment, I just didn’t give a damn. I couldn’t stop it this time. This lady is in her early 60’s, so I guess it felt a little safer than crying in front of someone younger. But still… A big no-no for me. Crying in public is not acceptable (for me- I don’t see it as a problem when others do it). She came over and hugged me, and I kept apologizing as the tears kept coming. She told me that she’s had plenty of people cry on her shoulder during her lifetime, what with her being an “old lady”. She was really sweet. But I didn’t really want that hug. For some reason, I felt she had crossed a boundary. I wasn’t comfortable. I’m the type of person who craves touch, and hugs are especially important to me. But it can’t just be any type of touch, or by just anyone. I have to feel comfortable with the person.

Anyway, I found myself on the verge of quitting my job. It would have been an impulsive move, which I knew spelled disaster. So instead, I picked up the phone and made an appointment with my doctor for the earliest available appointment, which was an hour after my phone call. I knew if I could just keep myself together until then and not do anything impulsive, I’d be okay. It was a battle, but I did it.

I was a wreck. For the first time in a while, I wanted to just end it all. I thought of all the pills I had, and just how easy it would be. I was close. So close to walking out, going home and going through with it this time. I hadn’t been sleeping (which always makes things seem so much worse) and it was really getting to me. I couldn’t focus, I barely knew what I was doing most of the time. I don’t want to mess up and make stupid mistakes at work. I decided to go to my doctor to get sleeping tablets (she didn’t give me a lot- a good thing), and while I was there, I spent the majority of the appointment in tears. I wasn’t as embarrassed crying in front of her though. I asked her whether she’d write me a note to book me off work for the remainder of that day, as well as for Friday. She knows my diagnosis, and she knows me relatively well, so she agreed. In my state, I just couldn’t work. Even my Clobazam (that she had prescribed me a few weeks before) hadn’t made much of a difference on Thursday. Just as a side note, I don’t take it every day. Just sometimes before bed if I’m feeling particularly anxious and paranoid, or in the day if I feel I need it. Sometimes I’ll only take half. I try to use it as little as possible.

I spent the majority of Friday and Saturday alone in my room. I didn’t want to see anyone, or talk to anyone. I just wanted to read, listen to music, write and daydream. I spent a lot of time daydreaming, which has always been my escape and has helped me cope through the most difficult times of my life. I had stopped daydreaming a while ago, and maybe that’s why everything has become too much again. I realized just how much I need it. It’s my lifeline. Yes, it’s not reality. But reality sucks sometimes. Anything to help us cope, right? At least it’s not destructive, which would have been my other alternative.

I was supposed to meet a couple of friends on Sunday, but that went bust. But I won’t get into that here. It wasn’t a good day and my emotions were all over the place. Before sunset I felt this need to just run away from it all, with a craving for the ocean, so I got into my car and drove down to the closest beach. It was a lovely, warm late afternoon.

As I got out of my car, the gentle smell of the ocean greeted me as if with open arms. There were a lot of people around, and usually that would make me anxious, but not this time. This time all I could think of was the feeling of the sand under my feet, and the big beautiful expanse of water in front of me. As I sat down, the wind wrapped itself around me, like a hug, and in that moment, I felt safe.

On Saturday evening I had experienced one of the loneliest nights I’ve had in months. And usually when I’m lonely, going out and seeing people with their families and friends makes me feel even worse. But not this day. There was no ache in my heart while watching couples and families walking along the beach, laughing and having fun. I was so in tune with nature, that I felt deeply connected to it. It didn’t matter that I was alone. Because I wasn’t truly alone right then.

The sound of the waves filled my ears, like a beautiful song. How could I feel alone when I had all of this? I was connected to something deeper than myself.

The way the setting sun cast shadows on some parts of the sand, leaving other parts bathed in a beautiful soft light. Even the footprints left behind had a certain kind of beauty to it. Did the people those footprints belonged to feel sad, happy, in love? What was going through their minds as they felt the soft, cold, wet sand beneath their feet? Were they so lost in their thoughts or conversation that they didn’t even feel it?

I felt this gentle inner healing. This relief from the intensely dark period I’ve been in. I still feel the sadness, but it’s not crushing. I realized that even this sadness is beautiful. It means I can feel. It means I am human.

Feeling The Grief

I’ve never liked that word. Grief. Even as I’m typing it out, I’m cringing inside.

But as a friend recently told me, words are just that. Words.

The morning after having written my post ‘Basking in the Sun‘, I woke up with this feeling of intense sadness. It’s followed me through the entire week, and I’m still feeling it.

Random spurts of crying accompanied it. Even at work, while focused on what I was doing, I was acutely aware of the aching inside me. And sometimes I couldn’t contain it any longer and the tears would just spill out. Obviously not wanting anyone else to see, I would go the bathroom, and let it just come. But only for a minute or two, and then I’d compose myself and walk out smiling, as though nothing had happened. I’m grateful that it’s not easy for people to tell that I’d been crying. It only becomes noticeable if I’d been crying for a long time.

Even while out with a good friend yesterday, I couldn’t get rid of this sadness. I was spending the day with her, her new boyfriend and his family. At one point I pulled her aside and told her that I was struggling emotionally. She gave me a big hug and told me that it’s okay to feel the way I am. That it’s normal. She was so caring and and supportive. I felt safe. I don’t usually tell friends or family that I’m struggling with something, but I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to be vulnerable with people closest to me. I’m glad I told her, because she helped me realize that it’s okay to feel these emotions and to deal with them.

The reason for my sadness is I’m missing someone that was a constant part of my life for years. I’m grieving for the life I had. It wasn’t the good life, but it’s familiar. I miss the place, the people, the person… Just everything. Now I’m in a new place, new environment, and nothing is familiar. I know I’m starting to build the life I want, that I’m slowly starting to find my feet, but I’m overwhelmed. I feel as though I shouldn’t hope too much, or allow myself to feel happy, because it will just come crashing down around me anyway. I feel like I don’t deserve to be happy and to have a happy life. That it’s just not meant for me. The day after having written the above mentioned post, I felt guilty. What right did I have to feel that good? What right do I have to feel good, when so many other people are suffering and in pain?

I haven’t really allowed myself to fully experience the loss of all I left behind. I thought I had. I thought I had let it go. But I haven’t really. Because most of the time I would just push it away or play it down when the thoughts and feelings would surface. I would tell myself that I’m fine. But I’m not fine.

I’m allowing myself to really sit with, and experience these emotions today. To sit with the sadness and grief. With the unbearable pain. With the thought that I made the biggest mistake of my life. That what if all we needed was this break? I’m sitting with the longing to go back to my old life. To the person who’s love was conditional, admitting that she took it away sometimes in order to punish me, but at least I had that love sometimes. I never felt safe when I was living that life. But that life feels safe now. Safer than where I am at this moment. But I know it’s just the grief talking. That if I go back, nothing would have changed. Maybe it would be different for a little while, better, but then what? So many ‘what if’s’ consume my mind, and I’m allowing myself to ask and answer those difficult questions.

It’s so hard and painful. And I’m so unsure about my future.

The Healing Bond

In my post ‘The Therapeutic Relationship‘, I wrote about my connection with my therapist, and the fear that often accompanies it.

On Monday morning, in preparation for our session later that afternoon, I asked her to open up that post for our session (she has access to my blog). I wasn’t sure whether she had read it, but I thought it was important that she does.

Most of the session revolved around talking about our relationship, my fears and things I had left unsaid for so long. I didn’t run away from it this time. I fully embraced it. And I’m so glad I did.

I got to see a side of her that I’ve never seen before, a more vulnerable side, and it was absolutely beautiful. My heart just softened. I felt this overwhelming love for her, and warmth filled every part of me. That moment right there… That moment is one I’ll never forget. It’s etched in my memory forever.

One of the things I told her, is that I sometimes worry that I’ll be replaced by her other clients. That I won’t be important to her anymore. She put that fear to rest by saying that she’ll always make time for me. That she cares about me. It felt really good to hear that.

I also asked her whether she thought I was still making progress. Because I feel like I’m not. But I spent some time thinking about this since that session. And I reached the conclusion that I am making progress.

I’ll give two examples.

I never really had boundaries with people in my life. In my head yes, but I was unable to communicate and enforce them. Now, thanks to this healing relationship, I’m starting to become better at it. I wasn’t even aware of it at first, it came so gradually. I still have a way to go, but there’s definitely progress.

Since I started seeing her at the beginning of March this year, I had this obsessive attachment to her. I would bombard her with emails. When she went on vacation for about a week, late in April, that didn’t stop me. I even sent her an angry email. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed, and what did I do? More emails. I was in crisis mode.

She always had an open policy, where I could contact her anytime. But I took it too far. I misused it greatly. In the last email she sent me during her vacation, she wrote that she feels strongly that we should have no contact between sessions, or have two sessions a week. But I couldn’t afford two sessions a week, so that was out.

I was devastated. I felt that the connection we had, had just been shattered. She had broken my heart. She had taken something away from me. I felt rejected and abandoned. When we had our next session, she was open to discussing this, and we reached a compromise. I could contact her during working hours. No nights or weekends. I still wasn’t happy with that arrangement, but it was better than absolutely no contact between sessions.

In our session on Monday, we revisited this topic. I told her that I don’t want this boundary anymore. That it hurts. That I’m jealous of all her other clients who don’t have this boundary. As usual, she listened and took to heart what I was telling her. She said that April is long gone, and she’s willing to give it a try and drop the boundary. I asked her whether she thinks I won’t misuse it this time. I liked her answer. She said that we know one another well by now, and she believes I won’t.

And I don’t plan to. I don’t want to use it unless I have to reschedule a session. It’s not about a boundary. It’s about me respecting her time. I want her to have her evenings and weekends to unwind and enjoy. And you know what? I’m actually glad she had set that boundary, because I grew from it. I learned from it. I learned to hold myself between sessions. To sit with my emotions and thoughts. To self soothe. I don’t feel the need to contact her in the evenings and on weekends, even though for some reason those are the hardest times for me. That is progress.

After this session, I feel an even deeper bond, a closer connection.

I want to encourage all of you going through therapy to be open and honest with your therapist about your feelings regarding the relationship. It’s so important for the healing process.

The universe has handed me a lot of shit, but it seems to have made up for it by connecting me to this amazing therapist.