Returning to Therapy Feels Like a Failure

Published on 7/19/2023

I spent a year and a half working with my last therapist. She was the one to finally diagnose me with Borderline Personality Disorder, and most of our time together focused on dealing with that and learning to manage the relationships in my life. We finally reached a point where I was struggling to come up with things for us to discuss. It was time to say goodbye, and that felt terrifying, but also so powerful.

Was I cured? No, of course not. I live with a personality disorder which impacts every part of my life. But I now had the tools to manage it. I knew how to handle conflicts, and namely, how not to handle them. I knew what I needed to do to keep my depression at a more manageable level, and how to avoid anxiety-inducing situations. I had to stop being so dependent on my partner and focus on myself more.

And for a while, it really worked. I didn’t think I was better, but I felt like I was handling things better. I still cried after the smallest disagreement, but I managed to wait until it was done and not say things I’d regret. I still had the urge to self-harm or restrict my eating, but I was able to push those thoughts away, or open up about them.

I didn’t think I’d end up back in therapy two years later.

When things went wrong

When my relationship of four years ended, I was concerned. I think everyone in my life was. But the truth was that I was surprisingly okay. I had been preparing myself for the end of this relationship for months, so when it finally came, it was a bittersweet feeling. I still had to go through all the stages of mourning what we had, or rather would never have, but I didn’t slip into old patterns.

It was a year later when things started to go badly. I started waking up with a heavy anchor in my chest. I felt so low for days on end, and then it would be inexplicably gone. This wasn’t like before, when my depression was usually triggered by any small inconvenience and would pass within hours. This was different to the unstable mood swings that I’d come to expect with my BPD. This was a constant state of grey, and I was growing exhausted under the weight of it. I struggled to focus at work. I struggled to leave my house. I struggled to simply care about anything.

One day, I realised that I didn’t even want to work on my book, and this really scared me. Writing has always been the love of my life. When nothing else works, when my soul feels inexplicably torn, I can write about it. But I struggled to type out a few words. This is when I grew afraid. If I didn’t care about writing, what would I care about again? What would push me through my days? I was reaching a terrifying place, where anything was possible.

So I went to my GP and asked to go back to therapy. In the Netherlands, you have to be referred by a doctor. I was put on a waitlist, and it felt like a huge relief to even be there. I had admitted it, I had said it out loud.

It took six months to get off the waitlist, which is shamefully normal for my country’s healthcare system, like many others. I had my intake, where they asked what I wanted from therapy now which I hadn’t got before.

I explained that it felt like I was doing everything right, or as well as I could. I wasn’t really drinking anymore, I was focusing on getting enough sleep and exercise, I was avoiding situations that worsened my mental health. And yet, I was so sad, with no reason in sight. I had bubble-wrapped my life for my BPD, and what did I have to show for it? I didn’t know what I could do differently.

I was beginning to wonder if this was simply my life and I somehow had to come to terms with that. I didn’t know if I could accept feeling like this for five more years, ten more years, fifteen more years. I needed more.

A depressive episode

I learned a lot from my last therapist, and it allowed me to make a lot of improvements in my life. Now I’m working with my new therapist on not shutting myself off from the world and coming to terms with what my BPD means for me. We’re mainly doing Acceptance Commitment Therapy for that. Aside from my BPD, they believe that I’m simply in a major depressive episode, and there’s no cause for that. Maybe it’s just in my DNA.

I was also put on anti-depressants. I had briefly been on them at the age of twenty and it hadn’t been a pleasant experience. At the time, I wasn’t doing talk therapy, I was drinking heavily, and I had a lot of emotional turmoil going on. Now I’m twenty-six and ready to handle it right.

Returning to therapy is going well, and yet it’s clouded in shame. I feel embarrassed to admit it to the people in my life. It’s been three months, and I’m now only writing about it. Going back to therapy feels like admitting defeat, like I’m waving a white flag and didn’t do enough the first time around. I feel like it’s a criticism of my former therapist, even though we did great work together.

It feels like saying I can’t handle the most basic things. Like something in me is just broken. It makes me wonder if my life will always be marked by going in and out of therapy.

Therapy isn’t a one-time fix

It turns out that I’m far from the only one to be returning to therapy so soon. In a study by PennState, they found that 30% of participants returned for at least one additional course of therapy.

PsychologyToday also found that 30% of people tend to return to therapy. However, they present this as therapy helping when it didn’t before. But I think therapy can help you, and there still be more to explore. Things can happen between those courses, or you can recognise areas of your life that need more work. I don’t think it has to mean your first attempt failed, but rather that you’re getting more work done on your mental health. We’re constantly evolving, and so our emotional needs are as well.

Therapy isn’t a one-size fits all fix. Each therapist brings something different to the table, and it’s usually decided between the therapist and the client. Each course of treatment is different, even with the same therapist. If you are returning to therapy, consider what you’d like to focus on now, and it might be different.

I was returning due to a depressive episode, but I was also feeling like my life was on pause, like I didn’t know how to escape my BPD bubble anymore. I had gotten so good at being alone that I didn’t know how to want people in my life again.

You get what you put into therapy. And choosing to go to therapy isn’t a surrender, it’s a win. It’s admitting the truth and putting yourself first. There is no shame in returning to therapy, as most of us end up there someday. We all need a helping hand sometimes, and some of those come from people with Dr. in front of their names.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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