One of my favourite puzzles as a child was a much loved and very battered jigsaw puzzle of the teddy bears' picnic. In the midst of a chaotic life the satisfaction of putting the last piece in place to make a familiar picture was so satisfying.
In the past couple of days, I started thinking about my life as a jigsaw - it's not a new thought for me, I loved Carole King's 'Tapestry' album and really loved the lyrics of the title track. Tapestries are things of beauty woven from disparit bits of thread or wool. Looking at the back there is no sense, no beauty, only a chaos of unconnected threads. Only when the picture is complete and viewed by taking a step back, can the onlooker see any beauty or sense from it.
So it is with my life, particularly when considering the part my MH condition has played in it. I mean who really wants to acknowledge that any good can come from something so difficult and painful? Whether I like it or not, for good or ill it is one of the things that has shaped the person I am today. A few years ago I actively hated that person to my very core - in the reflection of other people's treatment of me, I could see no value in my being.
Having battled my unseen and unnamed demons for many years my life resembled the jumbled mess of pieces when I first tip a jigsaw puzzle from the box. I could see the perfection I aspired to, almost like the completed picture on the front of the puzzle box. Somehow, knowing how I wanted my life to be made my struggles all the more painful.
I don't know my bookshelf is wonky until I put a spirit level against it. I think it is part of being human, some masochistic streak in us which means we always compare ourselves with others. Particularly, in regard to the life I've lived, I used to resent and envy, in equal measure, the 'ease' with which others seemed to float through life. It has taken me a long time and honest conversations with many friends and family to realise that no one has a perfect life. If I set that as my goal, particularly when learning to live with my mental illness, I will constantly feel like a failure.
I have spent the last nearly five years learning about BPD and how I can manage to live with it, without it ruining my life. When trying to complete my jigsaw puzzles I cannot simply start to put pieces together without first having an idea of the picture I am trying to create. Before I can know if I am managing my BPD I need to first know what a 'good life' means for me. As anyone with BPD knows this is so challenging, because one of the basic building blocks of life - our identity - is one of the central aspects of life that are disrupted by this condition. My sense of who I am has been so warped and distorted by my experiences, particularly in my experience of being parented, that, nearing my fifties, for the first time I am in a place where I can begin to define what makes me, me. For as long as I can remember before my diagnosis, my sense of self was created by what was being reflected back to me by others. Just as the moon's brightness depends on the brightness of the sun that it reflects, so how I felt about myself became a reflection of how others perceived me.
I am in a period of experimentation with new people, experiences and attitudes to life. I am learning to define my own responses to relationships and situations, rather than rely on behaviours and reactions I have learned from avoiding the emotional fallout of my BPD.
Getting rid of my car, having never been without one since I learned to drive at the age of 17, has taught me that my problem solving skills are very good. I am learning to trust and realise that I do not have to 'bare my soul' for people to accept me. I don't need to explain my reasons for things such as not going to social events. In the past I would either force myself into these situations, then resent the friends I was with, or I would cancel and then over explain in a bid to avoid rejection from my friends. This has given me a new freedom in friendships, where every interaction is not a make or break, life or death decision.
Although I am at the end of my time in Mental Health services (I hope for the long term, but who knows?), I know my life is not completely 'sorted' - despite the panic inside I am realising that the long term nature of BPD means that no matter how long I had been in services I would never have a completed jigsaw with a perfect life at the end of it. When I remind myself that my jigsaw is still in progress and the last piece will never be put in place until my life is completed, I can stop feeling that I have 'failed' at treatment. I can stop putting pressure on myself to have everything in place in time for my last Care Co-ordinator meeting. I can stop panicking that I don't know what job I will do in the future. I don't have to beat myself up that I don't have any long term relationships on the horizon.
Recovery for me no longer means that I have everything sorted from my childhood, or that I have a perfect life, or that I will never be troubled by my condition again. That puts way too much pressure on me along with the fear of failure. I don't have to pretend I have it all sorted, or that I have a perfect life. I do recognise that I have moments of contentment and happiness, more often than in the past. I am no longer suffering the physical effects of long term anxieties and depression, although I remain on medication which maybe has to continue as part of my treatment at the moment. My life jigsaw is not complete, but it is no longer a jumbled mess of pieces, there is a more cohesive picture of me emerging - that's something that is satisfying.