Grief and Borderline and Bears, oh my

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An imposter

18) “At home find a keepsake or rummage through a ‘junk’ drawer and find something that has a sentimental meaning to you, write about it. What or who does it represent? Alternatively find some old photographs and tell me about one of them.”

I have a lot of keepsakes. I connect emotion with object very easily. I think that part of it is the Borderline tendency to be attracted to transitional objects (like a kid’s teddy bear or blanket that they can’t live without and represents constancy). I think the possession I would be most heartbroken to lose would be my childhood bear Huggie. My mother says I grabbed him from a shelf in Continent, a French department store like Walmart but you know, French, and would not let go of him. I was about a year and some old. I don’t know what Huggie used to look like but he has always been flat with two simple black eyes and a little black plastic nose. He has a ribbon around his neck that was, at one point, wide and wrapped into a bow. Now it is tattered and hangs sadly from his neck. Because he was attached to me, his fur is now matted and flat, but will still fluff up when you rub it. He has one silk tag that is so worn that nothing written on it is intelligible. He is blue and I think his original French name was something along the lines of “blue bear.”

For me, Huggie was safety, constancy, a shield. Whenever he was missing I would lose my mind. I remember feeling totally lost if I didn’t know where he was. Today he is safely stored away where the dogs cannot get to him, even if that means I don’t get to have him when I sleep. I used to have to travel with him too but now he is too delicate and I also don’t feel the need to have him around.


 

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One of the biggest issues I’ve been dealing with is grief. It is a complex emotion and manifests differently for everyone. For me it was totally debilitating. I decided to do a little reading and came across this section of the BPD handbook that explains a lot of what my last few years were like:

“Problems with Grieving in Borderline Patients”

“Borderline patients are not among those able to circumvent the process of grieving. Furthermore, they seem unable either to tolerate or to move through the acute mourning phase. Instead of progressing through the grief process to resolution and acceptance, they continually resort to one or more avoidance responses. Thus, the inhibition of grieving among borderline individuals serves to exacerbate the effect of stressful events and continues a vicious cycle.

Inhibited grieving is understandable among borderline patients. People can only stay with a very painful process or experience if they are confident that it will end some day, some time–that they can ‘work through it,’ so to speak. It is not uncommon to hear borderline patients say they feel that if they ever do cry, they will never stop. Indeed, that is their common experience–the experience of not being able to control or modulate their own emotional experiences. They become, in effect, grief-phobic. In the face of such helplessness and lack of control, inhibition and avoidance of cues associated with grieving are not only understandable, but perhaps wise at times. Inhibition, however has its costs.

The common theme in pathological grieving is successful avoidance of cues related to the loss (Callahan & Burnette, 1989). The ability to avoid all cues associated with repeated losses, however is limited. Therefore, borderline individuals are constantly re-exposed to the experience of loss, start the mourning process, automatically inhibit the process by avoiding or distracting themselves from the relevant cues, re-enter the process, and so on in a circular pattern that does not end. Exposure to the cues associated with their losses and grief is never sustained long enough for desensitization to be achieved”  (90-91, Marsha M. Linehan, Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder).

For a while I needed to block out everything that reminded me of my losses. I couldn’t talk about it. It was like reliving the event, in burning, scalding detail, every time I had to have a conversation about it, which I had to do a lot because I was so depressed that I was in therapy and eventually in the hospital because of the depression. Then ALL they want to talk about is the one thing I felt like I couldn’t talk about. It wasn’t even that I didn’t want to talk about it, it was that it felt dangerous, like it would open up a floodgate that I wouldn’t be able to close again.

I let myself experience the grief in small doses, when I felt strong enough to handle it. Eventually I overcame the worst of it, could tolerate the thoughts, and even confront the triggers. It’s still painful, as I think it will be for a long time, but it doesn’t feel like feeling is going to kill me any more. It is scary to be afraid of your own feelings, afraid of losing control. With meds and whatnot now I feel somewhat in control of my general emotions, but I still have vulnerable days and serious losses of control, as Husband would attest. Then I relax back down into a basic equilibrium. I am not bogged down by the grief any more. It hurts but not in a way that devastates (i.e. makes me feel like comitting suicide). Now I just have to hope I am prepared for whatever new pain comes my way.

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