This is one of a series of exclusive stories that we are highlighting as part of the Time To Change See The Bigger Picture campaign, led by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, which aims to end stigma around talking about mental health. Please note that these articles contain discussion around topics that may be triggering to some readers.
I was sat upright in a hospital bed when I heard an almighty crash coming from the adjoining bathroom, followed by a string of expletives. My head was in a fog, partly from the meds the nurse had given me and partly from the concussion.
I could remember that I’d been at home in the midst of an episode when I’d hit my head so hard against the rim of the bathroom sink, it’d knocked me out cold. I was found on the bathroom floor by a paramedic who I presume had been summoned by my worried mother.
I can’t remember who brought me to hospital but I was safe now.
I knew to call Mum when an episode started. I’d reach out to let her know that I was no longer at the helm of my own body and that the illness had taken over for a gruelling nightshift.
For me, an episode meant losing control of my thoughts and responses to them. Imagine losing your skin for a moment, having your nerves exposed to the outside without a protective layer of reason. Your mind races at a pace your body can’t handle and you go into a state of shock. Sometimes it made me shut down; catatonic. Other times it was the opposite: frantic and restless. The latter was far more dangerous.
Knocking myself out wasn’t intended as self harm, but self preservation, before I did something irreversible.
The guilt and shame that came after an episode was unbearable, particularly if someone else bore witness to it, be that on the phone, via text or in person. The tragic irony of the condition is that you end up pushing away the people you so desperately yearn to keep close.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. I was 22 years old and it would take almost a decade to get the correct diagnosis. At first, I was treated for bipolar disorder, spent years on medication I didn’t need for a condition I didn’t have. I was so ashamed of myself that I never argued with the diagnosis that didn’t seem to fit.
I would go through periods of depression, anxiety and panic attacks with a deep-rooted fear that there was something else, something more specific that was causing it.
When I finally got the BPD diagnosis, it was a relief. I could put a name to the thing that made me feel different. But the name itself didn’t really make sense; I never felt like what was going on in my head was part of my personality.
It felt like something completely separate. I had always been a happy person: confident, extroverted, logical, reasonably intelligent – that was my personality.
I was grateful for the label nonetheless. It meant I had something to fight against. I bought every book out available about Borderline Personality Disorder and got to work. After years of feeling like a complete outsider, I felt emancipated by case studies of other people who felt the same way. I saw a therapist who reassured me that I could beat this.
That through talking therapy, acknowledging triggers and learning new ways to cope when I felt an episode coming on, I could lead a happy healthy life.
Generally-speaking there are nine signifiers/symptoms of BPD. I’m not going to list them all as they are not definitive, nor did I suffer with all of them, but I struggled a lot with fear of abandonment, shifting self-image and a chronic feeling of emptiness. I would also argue that these particular issues are symptomatic of something we all suffer with from time to time: the human condition.
Relationships had always been difficult. Looking back, I can see a pattern of dating extroverted, successful men with whom I felt comfortable playing the role of cheerleader. It’s by no means their fault, but I ended up being so consumed in their life, in their career, in their sense of purpose that I lost all sense of who I was.
I was a serial monogamist, because being single meant I had to figure myself out, and that terrified me. The man I was with was what defined me, so when the relationship inevitably broke down, it was like starting my life all over again.
My dad once told me, ‘When the sh*t hits the fan there are two types of people: the ones who stand by you and the ones who duck.’
I’ve certainly learnt to embrace singledom, and through doing so have found my identity and though the sense of emptiness remains, I fill it with other things now.
At my worst, I was unrecognisable and it put a strain on my closest relationships but the people who stuck by me are gold. Having a friend who is suicidal, or self-harming can be exhausting, I know, but the friends I have in my life now are the ones who never made me feel like a burden.
As my dad once told me, ‘When the sh*t hits the fan there are two types of people: the ones who stand by you and the ones who duck.’ If you stand by someone going through a mental health crisis you are not going to come out clean. My sh*t-stained friends are the best, and I’d take a turd bullet for them any day.
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding BPD, that we are ‘difficult’ people, but people tend to fear that which they don’t understand. The disorder is also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD)… yet another label that sounds judgmental.
The people I have met both online and in real life who have suffered with the disorder are the most empathetic, compassionate and caring people you could imagine. When you know what it’s like to want to give up on yourself, you’re less inclined to give up on others.
It’s not all doom and gloom, I currently wouldn’t even fit the criteria for a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis but like an ex-addict, I know I’m susceptible to it. It’s always there, lurking in the background.
Some days it rears its ugly head but I’m now armed with tools to defend myself against it. I joined a Facebook group for other people with the disorder and found a wealth of love and support. We put out a post if one of us is ‘going under’, and you can guarantee one of the 17,000 members will respond and lend an ear.
I speak out about BPD in the hope of breaking down some the stigma, but if you want to understand more about a person’s mental illness: ask them if they are up for talking about it. Dr Google can sometimes be misleading, and I’ve certainly read articles about BPD online that do not tally with my own experience, but if anyone asks I’m happy for them to hear it from the horse’s mouth when the time is right.
To anyone out there who has had a BPD/EUPD diagnosis, please know that you’re not alone. Getting treatment can feel (sometimes quite literally) like hitting your head against a brick wall but please know that there are people out there who will understand and want to help, it’s just a matter of finding them.
Time To Change
The reality of living with less common mental health problems like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder remains largely misunderstood. Time to Change is calling on people to see the bigger picture – click here to find out more.
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