Illnesses and therapies mentioned in this blog are linked at the end for more information.
When you suffer with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) a chapter could represent an hour rather than a substantial period of time; one minute I can be ecstatic about the future and the next choosing a meal can cause crippling anxiety.
Yeah, this week I am going to talk about my mental health. I wanted this blog to be about my ‘journey’ and mental health is a large part of my day-to-day life. It is something that is impossible for me to avoid, so let me share it with you.
And just a warning, reading this may be a trigger for some people. I’m sorry if that’s the case.
I have suffered with mental health problems since I was a child. It was after university that it truly came to a head. I couldn’t leave the house alone. The supermarket was a terrifying place filled with people and things that could potentially hurt me. I just wanted to hide in my room and escape this reality through games and books. And when I wasn’t panicking about other people and things hurting me, I was the one causing the damage. A sharp knife and a forearm was my trusted coping mechanism; it was a way to get rid of the torrent of emotions riding around inside of me. It meant I didn’t have to deal with whatever was rising up and threatening to take control. It meant I didn’t have to face the presence that was looming in the back of my mind, an ominous beast that threatened to weigh down on my chest and restrict my breathing, a suffocating sensation that stemmed from hidden nightmarish memories from my past. If I cut myself it was as if I sated that part of me, that creature that was created from those emotions – and with it, they were pulled back allowing me to breathe again.
Until the next time at least.
It would take me another two years to face the memories that were hiding there.
When I was twenty-three I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It was a strange moment. I had always known that I wasn’t ‘depressed’, that had never seemed to fit what I was feeling. I was anxious, almost constantly, but there was a lot more going on inside of my head. But BPD? When they discussed the symptoms with me it was like a veil was being lifted. When I read the list of symptoms it was as if someone was describing me and exactly what I was going through. I was elated. This was what was wrong and surely if they could tell me what was wrong, they could also tell me how to fix it.
They did. In the form of 18 months of bi-weekly therapy sessions. 195 hours of therapy. It was overwhelming to take in, but if I stayed as I was, there was a risk I wasn’t going to make it past the next 18 months. And I am not saying that to be dramatic.
Looking back at those 18 months I can’t believe we did it. I say we because there are too many people to mention to thank for helping me through it. These people have seen someone they love in their worst state. They’ve sat with me in A&E after I’d overdosed, my best mate sleeping in a chair to keep my company as I trembled and threw up from the effects of the drugs. Another dropped everything because I’d rung her from a supermarket car park, petrified because I’d hurt myself more than I’d intended and I didn’t know what to do. My Aunt, who drove across the country because I’d become paranoid and tried to cut the implant out of my arm, convinced that it was what was making me feel this way. I could go on and on and I don’t say this to be shocking, I say this because this is the side of mental health that isn’t talked about. This gets looked over and people have to cope with it, not just the person going through it, but those around them. And that’s why I knew I had to complete those 18 months; at first it wasn’t just for me, it was for them as well.
And it’s always been easier to say it’s for them, to focus on doing this for someone else other than myself. As soon as I focused on myself, on what I had actually done to myself it became uncomfortable…even now I feel as if I’m talking about someone else. That those horrible events happened to other people. Because as soon as I begin to think about the reality of it being me in that A&E bed, or me with that knife in my hand, it begins to hit me as to why I did it all.
To this day I am still dealing with what happened to me. Even now I’ve stared at the cursor blinking for about 5 minutes unsure of what to say, unsure if I can say it. Or if it’s okay to say. But I want to, because people should talk about it more. That ‘it’ being sexual abuse. It’s a trauma people suffer that feels impossible to talk about. But more often than not when I’ve spoken about it people will say ‘I know someone who’s been through something similar’ or ‘Actually…I’ve been through it myself.’
No two stories are the same. No two traumas are ever the same, or even the effects they have on people. And, as for everyone, my own case is individual to me. Unfortunately it’s been a cumulative amount of trauma over the years from various individuals that have compounded into what I now have to cope with. And dealing with that even today – I am still remembering things that have happened to me. I will always remember the therapy session in which I realised that the horrific word ‘rape’ might apply to me. I researched it, I looked online, I even rang a helpline in some vain attempt to deny it. Because it couldn’t be true. That can’t have happened.
But it had. I have been in two abusive relationships. It’s funny, but until recently I wouldn’t have called them that. Only after intense therapy have I discovered the cause of my problems, my anger and my self-harm. Because every time the emotions came to the surface I might hurt myself – not deal with what had happened. Because what had happened was too horrific to even contemplate.
So I am now in EMDR therapy, following on from MBT. MBT helped me reach a point where I was able to confront those traumatic memories. And now EMDR is helping me face them. Every week I go in and face up to memories in my past that still feel as if they’re happening today. I often get flashbacks during the day, triggered by the most obscure thing. I feel emotions and I feel physical sensations to the extreme, so much so that sometimes I can’t breathe. And sometimes I am completely out of control of my own body. It’s weird and scary. I begin to recognise now what the trigger are, and as a result I avoid things; such as movies, or TV shows with strong emotional content – or the news. I have to actively think about how to protect myself from these flashbacks, which in truth reflects a larger part of my mental health, including issues with food, socialising and intimacy.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because living with mental health is a daily struggle. Tonight, as I write this, there will be people sat in hospitals across the country, fighting silent battles as loved ones suffer with this illness. Like any other chronic condition you have to adapt your life to cope with its effects, as do those around you. It’s an illness that people sometimes have to live with their entire lives. And some aren’t as fortunate enough to receive the help that I have in my own struggle against BPD.
But, I have moved on from being unable to leave the house alone; now I have the confidence to be left alone to run my own business. I am not special. Others can achieve this too – with the right support. I have worked very hard to get here; emotionally it has not been easy for me or those around me. But we’re here, we’re happy and we’re looking forwards to the future.
In case people are interested there are some links below to explain some of the things I’ve talked about.
EMDR – http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/emdr.html
BPD – https://mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/borderline-personality-disorder-bpd/#.Wd_eYkuGND8
MBT – https://psychcentral.com/lib/mentalization-based-therapy-mbt/