May is Mental Health Awareness Month and also Borderline Personality Awareness Month so I feel it's only fitting to finally get this blog post out.
This is a pretty long one so strap in.
As always a **TRIGGER WARNING** as content will touch on topics such a self-harm, suicide, rape, and a look in to mental illness, so readers discretion is advised.
From a young age I didn't really understand life. I felt a constant wave of extreme emotions and had no idea how to deal with them, this then led to self-harming, heavily drinking and risky behaviour, which at the time I assumed was a phase that I'd grow out of.
I don't remember how old I was when I first saw Girl, Interrupted (James Mangold 1999), but something drew me to it, aside from my huge love for Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Brittany Murphy. Something clicked when I saw that film. It wasn't a case of admiration for the celebrities I looked up to, it was something else. Something about Susanna Kaysen's story which rang true with me. I brushed it off as "Oh, I'm just trying to be quirky, dark and mysterious", but when I look back now, I know that wasn't the case at all.
Getting a diagnosis, for anything, can be extremely daunting and turn your world upside down, or it can be reassuring and a relief. After fighting my way to finally get an appointment with CMHT I found this relief when receiving a new diagnosis for my mental health. When I was younger I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety and given the option of medication but not therapeutic support. I sat with that diagnosis for years but still felt there was something more. After I was raped I was diagnosed with PTSD and slowly began understanding the symptoms of this. Throughout the years though it still felt like there was something more. A few friends had said I was presenting traits of Bipolar Disorder and I had a few professionals say I had traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. I shrugged it all off knowing how much these two disorders can overlap with PTSD.
I nearly didn't go to my CMHT assessment. I had come out of my crisis point and was feeling okay - not my euphoric on top of the world high, but okay. Like I could handle things. In the end I did go, and I am really glad I did. The CMHN listened to me, like REALLY listened to me. I have never felt so heard in my life. She asked about everything to get the best history she could. She looked me in the eyes and reassured me, validated that the rape was one of the worst things I could have experienced and reminded me that what I feel, and what I have always felt is something which has a name. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) - or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD)
I've known a lot about BPD for many years as Psychology is a huge passion of mine and I spend a lot of time reading about mental health conditions. Despite my prior knowledge though it wasn't until my CMHN showed me a diagram about BPD that I truly believed that it was something I had. Everything then fit in to place and made perfect sense. I felt such a sense of relief that I started to cry with happiness.
About Borderline Personality Disorder
(All information from Rethink Mental Illness)
BPD is a type of ‘personality disorder’. It is an illness that makes you struggle with your emotions and this can affect your relationships with other people. Around 1 in 100 people have BPD. It seems to affect men and women equally, but women are more likely to have this diagnosis. This may be because men are less likely to ask for help. Everyone will experience BPD differently. If you have BPD, you may have problems with:
feeling isolated or abandoned by others,
self-harming or suicidal thoughts,
coping with stress,
getting on with other people,
strong emotions that you find hard to cope with,
misusing alcohol and prescription drugs,
illegal drugs and substances,
understanding other people’s points of view,
staying in work,
having a long-term relationship, or
being able to maintain a home.
It is called ‘borderline’ because doctors used to think it was on the border between two different disorders: neurosis and psychosis. Doctors no longer like to use these terms to describe mental illness. It is sometimes called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD). Some people feel that this describes the illness better.
You may be diagnosed with BPD if you have at least five of the symptoms below.
Extreme reactions to feeling abandoned.
Unstable relationships with others.
Confused feelings about who you are.
Being impulsive in ways that could be damaging. For example, spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating
Regular self-harming, suicidal threats or behaviour.
Long lasting feelings of emptiness or being abandoned.
Difficulty controlling your anger. For example, losing your temper or getting into fights.
Intense, highly changeable moods.
Paranoid thoughts when you’re stressed.
"Well, you look normal"
I know I write and share a lot of deeply personal stuff, but this one is pretty hard and nerve-racking. Despite the relief of having this diagnosis and being in the process of receiving treatment and trying to get my life on track, there is still SO much stigma around mental health/illness, especially BPD.
Many people think those diagnosed with BPD are manipulative, that the diagnosis is made up, that they're aggressive, or dangerous, that they're just using the diagnosis as an excuse to get attention...No, no and no!! Individuals MAY also be manipulative, aggressive or dangerous but that does not mean it's because of their BPD diagnosis.
Something else to remember, as with many other illnesses, is that you can be high functioning. For example, I am in a committed long-term relationship, I have a loving family, I have (a very small) group of close friends, I work, I study, I have a mortgage. NONE of that means I am not battling with mental illness daily. You have NO idea the pain and turmoil that goes on inside my mind on a regular basis and how much strength it can take to just carry on.
This does NOT mean I am selfish. This is how my brain is wired. I am more than aware of the shit that goes on in this world and that "I have it better than others so I should just get over it", but I'm sorry to tell you, that's not how mental illnesses work!!
Before I get too heated I will end with a positive. Right now I am so glad to finally understand what is going on inside my head, and what has been going on for so.many.years. Many people with BPD are passionate, empathetic, compassionate and creative and you may not necessarily know that they have the diagnosis.
If you know someone with a mental health diagnosis and you're a bit overwhelmed or confused by it all,
1. imagine how hard and scary it can be for them
2. read up on it, there's plenty of info out there
3. talk to them, it might be hard for both of you but you'll probably both benefit from it a lot.
I finally understand why I felt a connection to Winona Ryder's character, Susanna, in Girl, Interrupted.
- "How the hell am I supposed to recover when I don't even understand my disease?"
Well, now I do, so now I start the hard work to recover.
As always, here are some links for anyone who may need them.
Rethink Mental Illness
Samaritans - 116 123
Time To Change
Men for Mental Health
Stickers from Cara's Corner
Take care of yourselves and one another, and I am really sorry for such a long post.
DON'T FORGET: Mental Health Awareness Week is coming up Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019 with a focus on body image.