I receive treatment at IMH and have attended a myriad of support groups both over the course of my stay in the ward and since then, across various outpatient settings. Recently, my therapist suggested I attend her Psychotherapy Process Group. The objective of which would be to actively work through sticky interpersonal issues that surfaced during group interactions. I struggle with BPD traits and since they tend to manifest themselves as trust and boundary issues in many of my intimate relationships, I decided to give it a go.
Watching the girls’ routine during the Games, their reactions upon winning, and then this reflective piece describing the entire process, this somehow felt reminiscent of therapy to me. The metaphors and allusions and perfect descriptions of drowning are something I can relate easily too, even though I’m by no means a synchronised swimmer.
I am currently wading through the thick muck and mire of recovery from childhood sexual abuse, and sometimes it gets ugly. My therapist says that I “check out” as a defense mechanism – that I numb myself by disassociating from the trauma. And I do. Because I’m terrified to feel my feelings. I’m terrified that if I really let them out, I will be crushed by them. I’m getting there, slowly, one painful step at a time. But I’m getting there.
What struck me in the above extract was Mattew’s sense of powerlessness and lack of control over his relapse, recovery and treatment journey in the health and family system. We want every individual in Singapore to have a safe space to reach out and tell his/her story. To have one’s emotions and experiences held tight. We want to create a community that validates not only the joy and triumphs of life, but also the pain and secret shames embedded in your personal journeys.
The name Matchsticks embodies the sense of hope that we aspire to be for the mental health community. We hope to ignite the passion to serve the mental health community in others, in order to spark a difference as we move toward being a more inclusive society. Established in 2014, Matchsticks of IMH has grown into a group of 150 strong youths and working adults. We devote our time weekly in serving the needs of our special friends at the long stay wards in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
What really struck me was the conundrum even ordinary people faced daily with letting go and/or holding on to intimate relationships. As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) this is a struggle close to my own heart. A core feature of BPD is the presence of serious interpersonal problems. People with BPD tend to have intense, unstable relationships, characterised by frequent wavering between strong clinginess/dependency and sudden withdrawal.
“Workers with psychiatric disabilities have to acquire new skills while in the process of learning how to negotiate an unfamiliar public environment, having at the same time to contain the effects of the illness and the feelings of insecurity and self-doubt that come from previous experiences.”
Leaving the ward, two things I realised I’d newly acquired were A. a hypothetical diagnosis and B. my mum’s grief/mistrust towards me. The first hit me right off the bat, and would continue to do so as therapy progressed and more issues came to the surface. Medications helped stabilise the highs and lows \, but writing in to the Dependant Protector Scheme for insurance coverage very surely did not.
Sometimes when I go for therapy it feels like I’m giving over control to my therapist and I leave sessions feeling extremely needy (e.g. I start counting down days till the next time I see her so she can challenge and calm my multiplying irrational thoughts and impulses back down again).
When I feel empty… I feel my face blur in and out of focus. You prop me up but I fall down. The passing of time doesn’t change me. I am a failure, the only one I notice.
Dear Self-harm, I. hate. you. Please leave me alone. You whisper in my ear. Telling me to prove myself and more. Telling me that no one will have me. Telling me I’m a joke, a liar, a hypocrite.
She grinned at him and leaned back in her chair. “You’ve stopped fighting them, Jonah. That’s the first step, to acknowledge their existence. The next step is to learn to reason with them, to find a place for them in your life. That’s the only way that they’ll make room for you. Think of them like annoying relatives; they’ll never really go away, but you can learn to deal with them so that they don’t disrupt your life.”
Today’s the third last day of university life for me, and I have successfully accomplished the task of befriending the resident cat at school. Nothing school or job related. To be honest, I do feel the impending dearth of future aspirations. It’s like training to be a teacher and then, well, not becoming a teacher.
Sometimes I think: I don’t understand how a person who believes in God can simultaneously have a chronic mental illness, or stay embittered in past hurts. But I realise that just as being in therapy couldn’t be a quick fix, going to church will never satisfactorily answer all my big questions either.
[Spectrum: Band of colours formed from a beam of light (1670s); from Latin, literally ‘image, apparition’ (1610s); word origin, spec(ere) ‘to look at, see’ (1605)]
Writing a post on coping strategies does strike me as coming full circle. I started my mental health journey relying very much on distractions and healthy coping methods, such as studying, running, and prayer. While they were crucial to my remaining functional at home and school for a long, long time (no complaints there!), I continued to struggle badly with disconcerting mood swings in private. Eventually, as is prone to happen to even the most stoic of us (much less me), I exhausted my inner resources and turned to not-so-healthy ways of coping.