You know, it’s really really hard talking about mental illness. As much as we support those who do decide to go public and blog, or vlog or write articles in magazines and newspapers frog it’s OUT THERE baby. You can’t catch that bad stuff and put it back in the box. You’re ‘labeled’ then, you and them, forever.
I remember my grandparents telling me about members of the family who were considered mad. Auntie so-and-so, off her rocker, stole all the christmas money and drank herself to death. Uncle Whatsit who came back from Korea and never left his flat for 7 years and lived alone as a recluse until he died.
We all have them tucked away somewhere. Barmy, OCD, suicide.
But when we think about coming clean or going public with our terrifying news, we know we risk being labelled and catalogued along with the rest of them, down in history as another mad auntie . Many (most?) of us just chose the path of least resistance and hide. Just like a person in the closet, we are in there with them, hiding, hoping no one finds is out. Sure they may suspect, you’ve been giving off strange vibes for years but until it’s spoken about, they don’t know. You’re safe.
What’s been niggling at me for years though is, is this the best thing to do? Is it responsible to do that? Can I live with myself forever if hiding is my future? I will forever risk people not knowing me truly, deeply. I’m just not living honestly.
It’s a burden.
It’s a real problem having a mental illness and it’s sad. It’s sad because you are hiding, because there’s such a huge part of yourself you cannot divulge, like Dexter, you keep your serial killer locked away in the dark. And then you risk never truly being known. Those things that make you, are mysteries. Those things that drive you are smothered, disguised, and they can grow and swell and you keep on covering them layer after layer, lie upon lie until you perhaps forget yourself what and where you hid it all. But you dream, paranoid dreams of being discovered, found out, chased by snakes, lost all your teeth, arrived naked at a party.
But if you do reveal yourself to the world then what? Their reaction could damage you further, drive you back in and down further than you were before.
Lots of people we know have been touched by some kind of depression in their lives, some illness that we can’t see, can’t quite put our finger on. Some children we’ve known have had problems too which have lurked in dark places, difficult to bring to light. Teenagers with anorexia, self harming/wild and out of control, or sullen and damaged in their rooms unable to communicate with anyone their distress. I was one of these girls, and I grew to be one of these adults.
After years and years of suffering I decided to finally get someone proper to have a look at the mess inside my head. To dust down those layers and layers and to at long last have a look at the engine laid bare. It’s been scary, it’s been enlightening but I’ve stoically refused to let her give me the label I know I have. I’ve feared that label. I’ve feared the power that label could have over me once discovered. That it may just stick and never come off. That once I had it i’d have to tell others about it. Im like that, I like knowledge to be a force for good, to help others.
It took 18 months for me to pluck up the courage and ask. But finally I did. There you have it, I’ve got a touch ‘O BPD. My very own label.
B.P.D. or boarderline personality disorder. Scary stuff, strong stuff – like being told you have a possible terminal illness with a small chance of recovery.
“BPD is considered by medical practitioners to be a severe psychiatric disorder. It is recognised as such by the DSM IV”. http://www.bpdworld.org
We, my fantastic therapist and I, both agree I’ve been suffering since I was approximately 11, when my periods started, when I started to change, when I was sent away to boarding school, a year before my parents split up, when things really weren’t right. What does it feel like? It’s like regularly falling into a deep, dark well, literally a pit of despair. It’s black, devoid of any comfort, full of anxiety and self loathing. Thoughts of death surround you as the only possible means of escape. You want to sleep, just sleep until it passes so you don’t have to feel it, to breathe it in any more. Or you want to hurt yourself, punch yourself, cut yourself, do damage. You may also want to lash out at those close to you for their lack of understanding. You can’t trust your thoughts as they deceive you, you don’t know what to think so it’s best not to even try and fathom any of it. Scary stuff. Strong stuff. Long term therapy is the key, a little bit of dismantling, bit of tweaking, lots of rebuilding, lots of tears and some happiness. She has promised, my lovely therapist, happiness.
Here’s how the website Mind describes it:
“You feel very worried about people abandoning you, and would do anything to stop that happening.
You have very intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly (for example, from feeling very happy and confident in the morning to feeling low and sad in the afternoon).
You don’t have a strong sense of who you are, and it can change depending on who you’re with.
You find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships.
You act impulsively and do things that could harm you (such as binge eating, using drugs or driving dangerously).
You have suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour, eating disorders are common – bulimia or anorexia
You feel empty and lonely a lot of the time.
You get very angry, and struggle to control your
When very stressed, sometimes you might:
feel paranoid have psychotic experiences, such as seeing or hearing things other people don’t,
feel numb or ‘checked out’ and not remember things properly after they’ve happened.”
I know there is more to that list.
I had no idea about this disorder until a couple of years ago, and I’ve only known I have it for a couple of months. Before, I didn’t have much of a clue what was wrong with me. I just thought it was a collection of random, shitty things I was feeling all the time and that cumulatively meant I was a shitty person with a shitty personality. My bad luck. ‘I just have a terrible personality’ I’d say to myself, or worse, no personality at all.
So as I said, for the last 18 months I’ve finally committed to some regular, deep therapy and I’ve been seeing a wonderful, highly qualified and respected psychotherapist whom I greatly admire. So far so good, we are making small but significant breakthroughs. So I’m not a shitty person?! Hey what about that! Also that so many of the ordeals I’ve been through and put myself through I actually couldn’t help?! Wow, what a relief! I roll that around my tongue a bit every once in a while now to see how it feels – ‘couldn’t help it’, hmmmmm. Not quite used to that thought. I’m so used to blaming myself, hiding myself away, punishing myself, the thought that most of the time I actually couldn’t help it makes me feel strange, like I suppose someone being pardoned after spending many years in prison for a crime they couldn’t remember committing. Yes, relieved and strange. I’ve always KNOWN I couldn’t help it but other people have made me feel like I SHOULD help it – “pull yourself together” “pull your socks up” “control yourself” are the things I’ve most often heard, but of course when you feel totally OUT of control and there seems nothing you can do to stop the flood, it makes you feel doubly worse. Trying to deal with these outofcontrol feelings and shame gave me a life long eating disorder and many years of addictions, just to add to the shitty pile of despair and self loathing.
Having what I have means there is a switch in my head that most of the time, of its own accord flips from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ – bad behaviour, bad mood – and once switched it’s anybody’s guess how long it will take to go back. I just have to sit it out in great despair and wait. Sometimes it will be a few hours, sometimes days, occasionally weeks.
It has made it difficult to hold down jobs at certain times (although I have), to parent effectively (although I have), to maintain close relationships and friendships. I often just don’t understand people or what they want from me. It’s made me antisocial, its made me introverted, it’s unpredictable and debilitating. It’s shocked and upset some, damaged relationships for good – more than I would like to admit to, coloured the way people think of me, made some avoid me and others abandon me which is a shame because I’ve known some fantastic people and I haven’t been able to understand why I’ve pushed them away. It’s made me hide much more of myself from shame and I’ve only been able to be open a select few.
Of course I’m not always bad, a lot of the time I’m very good. I’m kind, empathetic, respectful, obliging, fun and often endlessly giving, adventurous, daredevil and very loving – it’s just I come with an unpredictable bite sometimes – sorry! And I’m prone to hiding, quite a lot. If only I could tame my out of control black dog! How amazing would that be?! But still the black dog lurks, waiting. Perhaps today I’ll see him? Or tomorrow? (The bastard) I’m never sure but I’m only certain that I will see him, he’s never far away.
I would like to say that I’m really pleased I finally committed to therapy. I’ve of course tried many over the years and been disappointed with all of them, most just wishy-washy and ineffective, so to have finally found someone who I really respect is amazing to me! I’ve been on prescription drugs for many years and now finally I’m coming off with a confidence never felt before, I’m learning to be kind to myself, to say no more often and to just avoid situations and people I know may tip me. It has meant a culling of my old lifestyle and a paring back so I can see more clearly the right path, it’s meant I’ve given up alcohol because that messes too much with my head. I have a saint of a husband who loves me despite my worst and who has stood by me like a rock come what may and to whom I’m forever grateful. His love has shown me that I can and do contain light, that I am lovable, I can make something work. I cling on to those thoughts. He has proved to me that my deepest fears of abandonment are groundless – amazing! And I’m learning to relax about it.
I think a ‘going back to basics’ and simplicity is essential to help with the rebuilding process. I’m really hopeful for my future now where once I could only look with blackness and despair. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ‘normal’ as I’d like to be in my utopia, but I can and will strive every day for a better, stronger me, to learn to ride the black waves until they die down. If they ever disappear, I’ll be more grateful than you’ll ever know. Learning to eat properly after 26 years of disorder is a challenge, one day at a time. Punishing myself has been a way of life for over half my time on this planet. I’m going easy.
Recovery, I’ve been told, is possible. But I won’t be drinking to that.
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