Borderline disorder has been a topic of discussion in psychiatry for decades because of its many nuances. In order to shed light on what the disorder is, but above all on how to heal from it, we decided to interview a former patient of the GET Method who is now healed and ‘returned to the world’.
How would you explain the borderline disorder to those who do not know it, and using your point of view?
If I had to describe how I experienced the disorder, based on my experience, I would say: suffering from a constantly and strongly imperfect image projected by others (perhaps due to experiences in the past), based on enormous and impossible responsibilities, where one desperately seeks help from outside through various channels. I and strongly felt the need for someone to explain to me step by step why I felt so inadequate in the world. I desperately needed someone to make me feel alive and not abandoned in this sense of emptiness. At the same time I wanted to impress others to show them how ‘strong’ I was with perhaps a strongly aggressive image, completely far from my true being. In fact I felt an immense fear underneath that aggressiveness.
I could not at all understand the diversity of the world because I was not something, I was everything. I was amazed when I realised that one could think in such different ways and everyone could have their own idea. I thought people were either good or bad, with no grey area. I could not understand that when you are angry you see things one way and it is normal that it is different from seeing them when you are quiet. I couldn’t understand that we are not what we do or say, we are not good or bad because I felt I was always being judged by myself and that deprived me of the freedom to be somebody. I thought there were predefined, rigid patterns and when I discovered that the world is full of ‘it depends’ I felt relieved. I was always afraid that people wanted to hurt me, that people were evil. I still struggle with trust, but I’m working on it, like I’m working on trusting myself.
How was the awareness process? Did you realise something was wrong? Did she ask for help? Was it given?
I always realised something was wrong, even as a child. I felt anger ‘too strongly’, I thought. I would look at myself in the mirror and think ‘who knows if I will be crazy when I grow up’. I always asked for help because my parents were rather absent. In 2014, in November I contacted a psychiatrist for the first time for Eating Disorders. I’ve suffered from panic attacks since I was 15 years old but at that time I wasn’t really in a position to ask for help, so I just kept them, I only heard from a specialist I had seen twice with my dad but then didn’t investigate further.
I knew I was suffering, but I didn’t understand why. I felt sad, when I went dancing I thought ‘I can’t wait to go home and kill myself’.
I contacted San Raffaele in 2014/15 because although I was suffering a lot I knew I didn’t want to die. Also in 2017 I asked for help for anorexia, after a while my mum who lived in the States came. Overall I have always taken care of my mental health except for the last few years when I just couldn’t be alone anymore.
I was given help by a doctor to whom I am very grateful. She put me through two admissions, one while I was waiting to be placed in the GET (the borderline diagnosis came later). With her I felt like a person and not a patient. I also felt helped by GET where, there too, I found people who treat you as a person and not a number, whereas in other centres this is very much lacking.
A fundamental part of the GET method is the therapy carried out in groups. What was your experience like? Did sharing your feelings with others help your process of change? In what way?
The group in my opinion is the fundamental part of the therapy’s functionality. You break down so many boundaries: knowing how to accept others, being empathetic, knowing how to listen and understand, understanding that there is not always badness… in short, I could go on and on: you understand that the world is much more complex than a borderline person imagines.
I learnt when interpretation blocks relationships and also the lack of understanding and acceptance. Even legitimising oneself, understanding that unfortunately one cannot make everyone happy and with politeness and delicacy one must respect oneself first and foremost, without saying what others would like to hear.
The sacredness of sharing also lies in the fact that, in my opinion, it is human that when we live things only inside our heads they seem enormous, difficult, impossible. Then when you talk about them you feel less alone, sometimes understood and sometimes not (this is also normal) but you can find confrontation and enrichment. Also realise that everyone has their own reality, so be aware that even we sometimes cannot understand everything.
Where do you see the strength of the GET method? What and how has the method been most helpful to you in this therapeutic experience?
I see the strength of GET in the group work, in the work centred on Mindfulness (which I personally practise in my private life) and in the team. In all the professionals I dealt with, I found guidance. In each of them there was a piece that I took home, but not in them as a private life, because they honestly kept themselves very neutral in the task. In them as professionals, in psychology, which I think is a super fascinating subject, in the method each of them used.
Another strong point is definitely having a tutor. The most difficult part coming out of therapy (meaning the physical place where you also face painful parts of yourself) is the sense of emptiness and having to stay with yourself. That moment is very delicate and having a tutor to follow you through the critical moments is very important, also to learn how to ask for help when you are in difficulty. The figure of the tutor, as far as I am concerned, is then replaced in real life precisely with the ability to ask for help and not be ashamed.
Was there a specific moment during therapy (one of the 3 phases) when you realised that things were changing or did you realise it gradually? What were the feelings that accompanied these moments?
Phase 1. For me it was one of the most difficult moments of my life. It all started with a question: ‘but how do I know that I love my fiancé?’ I had such a strong realisation that I didn’t know myself at all, from any point of view. I didn’t even know how I felt emotions. I had to completely reset myself, I spent a whole year asking myself questions and having long dialogues with myself discovering things I had forgotten existed.
I spent the first months thinking seriously about suicide because I no longer understood anything. I had nothing left to defend myself, I don’t know if the therapy acted in what way without me realising it, but I felt helpless and without weapons. I was indescribably afraid, I was headbutting walls, screaming, crying. I made cloths out of blood, I gave myself the deepest self-harm cuts on my body but really out of masochism and not out of crisis.
Then I decided to trust myself because I literally couldn’t even survive and I decided to start talking. I talked a lot with my tutor, I talked to her about all my thoughts, even the ones that made me feel ashamed, fears, insecurities. I used to call her a lot to consult me during the day. I did TIP (T – Temperature; I – Intense Exercise; P- Progressive Relaxation ed.) three times a day plus Mindfulness. Slowly I was starting to rebuild something. There was a period in life around the age of 17 (when I think they were my happiest years), I was in the US a lot and I was getting to know myself.
There I admired myself and loved being with myself. So I was taking bits and pieces put on hold about who I felt I was in those years, who I had started to get to know, and trying to develop it. I must admit that I also touched moments of joy that I don’t think I have ever touched, when I rediscovered pieces of myself. I used to do long runs of tens of kilometres where I had inner dialogues and the feeling of well-being was indescribable. I built myself up, I started talking to myself, I realised that myself after all existed but I don’t know where it had been all these years. It was wonderful to rediscover it.
What achievement are you most proud of now that you are cured?
The achievement I am most proud of is being able to question myself. I am a very curious person and being able to confront myself has opened up a world for me. I used to get very offended when someone thought differently, I didn’t think it was possible to have different ideas. One of us had to be wrong. Now I have come to the conclusion that everyone is right (unless it is to repress freedom or inflict suffering on someone).
How did you see your future before and how do you see it now?
I did not foresee my future. Honestly there was no such question so there is no answer. At this moment in time, I see my future as complex, a bit difficult but possible. My greatest wish for myself is to start and develop the studies I dream of doing because knowledge makes me feel good.